A family faced with losing their home after being landed with an eye-watering bill for cladding works have been given a moment of relief as the works have been delayed.
Leaseholders of Walworth-based Oyster Court still face a bill totalling £2.6 million for fire safety works in the latest in a series of major cladding overhauls, as reported by the News two weeks ago.
However, last week Oyster Court resident, primary school teacher and mother-of-four Emma McGovern received good news when she heard that the housing association responsible, Optivo, intended to delay the works that would cost her family £85,000.
Optivo cite the large number of enquiries from residents of Oyster Court as the reason for the delay. The company has also faced considerable media backlash for the £2.6 million bill that had been passed onto leaseholders.
Emma said: “We are delighted that Optivo has chosen to delay the costly remediation works to allow for more discussions with residents.
“We hope these discussions will be profitable and that all avenues will be explored, full cost revealed and we can come to a mutual agreement on how to make the building fire safe without having to be burdened with life-changing debts.”
Emma also speculated that the delay may have been announced to allow time for Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak to announce his 2021 budget, which was unveiled yesterday.
This is because key to the controversy surrounding Oyster Court’s bill was whether or not residents qualified for government loans with a maximum repayment of £50 per month, which were put in place to help leaseholders in their position.
When Oyster Court residents were hit with the massive bill, it was not clear if they would qualify for this loan, potentially leaving them with no financial support to reach the enormous cost.
However, this may change with the new budget announcement.
Explaining the decision to delay fire safety works, Optivo said: “We’re continuing to do everything we can to keep our residents safe in their building.
“We’ve received a large volume of enquiries from our Oyster Court residents, with many wanting further clarity around why we’re carrying out fire remediation works to the façade.
“We feel it’s sensible to wait a few more weeks so we can meet and speak to residents further and address any outstanding concerns.
“Our evidence shows work is required at Oyster Court to reduce the fire safety risk. Fire engineers have confirmed the interim measures we have in place at the building will keep our residents safe until remediation work to the façade is complete.
“We’ve promised to contact residents by Friday 26 November with further details around when we’ll be carrying out the works.”
The News asked Optivo why the works were still needed if the block had been deemed safe enough to leave the flats as they are for now.
Optivo responded by saying: “We’ve interim measures in place to help mitigate the increased risk of external fire spread until the remediation works are completed.
These include a change of evacuation strategy from ‘stay put’ to ‘simultaneous evacuation’, which is why we’ve installed a temporary fire detection and alert system.
A change to simultaneous evacuation should only be temporary. This has been made clear in guidance issued by the National Fire Chiefs Council.”