Vista Tower freeholder hits back at government for “moving the goalposts” in cladding case

Vista Tower freeholder hits back at government for “moving the goalposts” in cladding case

The freeholder behind Vista Tower in Stevenage has expressed frustration with the government after it labelled a court decision on fire safety issues “a victory for leaseholders”.

Grey GR was taken to court by the department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, for failing to quickly remediate fire safety issues that were first identified in 2019.

However, as stipulated by the judge in the tribunal, the delays were caused by changing regulations in the wake of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire disaster, including the Building Safety Act 2022.

Grey GR criticised the lack of communication with the authorities throughout this transitional process – as it repeatedly tried to secure money from the Building Safety Fund, but the funds were slow to be allocated, while they’ve so far only covered a fraction of the cost of the works.

A spokesperson for Grey GR said: “Contrary to DLUHC’s statement, internal works throughout the building were completed in 2023, and the extensive remedial work to the external façade began early this year.

“We remain optimistic that we will finish all works by our provisional completion date of Autumn 2025, and the court acknowledged that the remediation order has no bearing on our ability to speed up the process.

“As detailed during the hearing, we have faced numerous delays during the remediation process in our attempts to seek the clarity needed from DLUHC to proceed at pace with remediation.

“We have engaged extensively with the government throughout where it has been possible to do so, but have been met with slow – and in some cases no – responses to our enquiries, constantly changing deadlines and requirements, and a frequent moving of goalposts.

“Following the decision, we hope we can move forward and continue to be a part of the solution to an issue that was not of our making and provide leaseholders with safer homes.”

Grey GR applied for the Building Safety Fund, which opened for registrations from 1 June 2020. The fund works by using money from property taxes to deal with the removal of unsafe cladding that caused the Grenfell disaster.

The fund only allocated £327,195 in January 2021, despite consultants Tuffin Ferraby Taylor estimating cost of the works coming to £14.5 million. In February 2024 a further £3.733 million of funding was released.

The matter was complicated by the introduction of PAS ((Publicly Available Specification) from the British Standards Institution, the latest government guidance on fire risk appraisals that replaced CAN (Consolidated Advice Note). Grey GR withdrew its Building Safety Fund application under CAN and reapplied under the PAS rules in 2022. The government said this was “further evidence of stalling”, but the judge said switching to PAS was “entirely reasonable”.

In the tribunal the judge said: “There has been delay on both sides but that has to be seen in the context of the Grenfell Fire and the sea change brought to the regulation of the construction industry and enforcement of fire safety in high-rise buildings.”

The judge went on to say the government’s criticism of Grey GR for applying for the fund is “misplaced”, because the government “introduced the fund without a means test and encouraged applications from freeholders in the same position as [Grey GR], which bears no responsibility for the creation of the relevant defects”.

Meanwhile the government’s claim that Grey GR should have wholly forward funded the works and not applied for Building Safety Fund funding would have been “impractical and even unreasonable” due to the cost of the works, as well as the fact that the freeholder did not case the defects.

Government wins landmark cladding case in Stevenage