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External Walls Survey Triggers Change in Emergency Evacuation Plan for Flats Above Town Centre Store

Published on: 3 Feb, 2022
Updated on: 3 Feb, 2022

The Waitrose supermarket only occupies the ground floor of the building. Above there are 45 “Bellerby Apartments”.

By Martin Giles

The emergency evacuation plan for apartments in Guildford’s Waitrose building is to be changed because of an instruction given by the Surrey Fire & Rescue Service (SFRS).

The revision has been ordered following the discovery of problems with the construction of the walls, specifically the fixing of the cladding, insulation and fire compartmentalisation of the building.

Inspection of wall claddings has been carried out on many multi-floor buildings across the country in the wake of the Grenfell disaster in London.

A spokesperson for SFRS said: “As a result of an inspection by Surrey Fire and Rescue Service, we have instructed the managing agent of The Bellerby Apartments [within the Waitrose building] in Guildford, to change their evacuation strategy from ‘stay put’ to ‘simultaneous’ (escape). They will install a temporary alarm system for the communal areas or have a waking watch in place.

“Once remediation work is completed on the cladding, the building should once again be able to support the ‘stay put’ evacuation strategy, which is preferred for this type of building.”

But the required work is likely to be expensive and the various parties involved have yet to agree who should bear the financial costs. In the meantime, leaseholders and housing association tenants who own a share in their apartments, are unable to sell.

The 45 apartments contained in the building fall into three categories: 24 are leasehold, where owners have bought 120-year leases (all but one of these apartments are believed to be let and are occupied by private tenants); 14 are shared-ownership apartments where ownership is shared between a housing association and the tenant occupiers; and seven are social housing units owned by a housing association.

Waitrose, part of the John Lewis group, is believed to be the freeholder of the building. They appointed Bowland and Kirkland (B&K) to construct the building’s “shell” including the external walls.

Waitrose granted a long lease for the whole building to Metis, who were also were responsible for the internal fit-out. According to Waitrose, Metis are still involved because they hold the relevant building warranties with B&K.

Other parties involved are:

  • VIVID, the housing association and primary leaseholders (under the Metis lease) of the shared-ownership apartments and landlords of the seven housing association units; and
  • GEM Estate Management, responsible for the overall management of the apartments.

It is understood that Waitrose jointly funded an intrusive cladding survey with head leaseholders Metis to verify the findings of the external walls survey (named an “EWS1”) required by prospective purchasers’ mortgage companies and to establish what needed to be done to rectify any faults, which had not been detailed in the survey.

The Leapale Road entrance to numbers 8-45 of the apartments. The similar entrance to flats 1-7 is on College Road.

Asked to comment on the situation Waitrose said: “The contractor is progressing plans to rectify the issue and we’re working with all parties to ensure this work is carried out as soon as possible.”

A spokesperson for Metis was keen to disown responsibility for the fault, saying: “We sympathise with the residents’ situation and understand their frustrations.

“We have sought to get to the bottom of the alleged deficiencies with the external wall system, and have been working with all interested parties to ascertain the nature of any defects as well as a proposed solution.

“Metis was not responsible for the design, specification, procurement, or construction of the external wall system of the property. The outer shell of the property was the responsibility of Waitrose, who appointed Bowmer & Kirkland to undertake its construction. Metis was only responsible for the internal fit-out of the apartments and common areas.

“Notwithstanding that Metis had no involvement in the outer shell, we are working with Waitrose to discuss the nature of the defects and have been in extensive communication with Bowmer & Kirkland to discuss a way forward.” Bowmer & Kirkland were invited to comment.

The building has a deceptively large footprint which allows space for the 45 apartments over three floors.

VIVID, the leaseholder of the shared-ownership apartments, said: “As the leaseholder of 21 flats at The Bellerby Apartments, we were made aware by GEM
 Estate Management, Metis Homes and Waitrose, the managers and owners of the building, that the external wall system on the building is non-compliant and remedial works will be 
needed.

“We understand this is a worrying situation for our customers and we’re chasing GEM/Metis/Waitrose for updates to understand what actions they intend to take to make sure the building is safe and fully compliant.

“Our priority is to ensure the safety of our customers until the works have been completed. We were pleased to hear GEM has met with Surrey Fire and Rescue Service to review interim safety measures and we await the proposed actions from this meeting. We have informed our customers that any costs for the interim safety measures will be covered
by VIVID.”

Paul MacAinsh, deputy managing director of the Qdime Group, of which GEM forms a part, said: “As managing agent, GEM Estate Management Limited has been working closely with our client regarding The Bellerby Apartments.

“We are aware of the situation regarding the External Wall System at the development and continue to liaise with the relevant parties regarding next steps. Our residents’ safety is paramount, and GEM Estates will continue to engage with residents and leaseholders to update them on the relevant information.”

Guildford Borough Council, which has a building regulation enforcement responsibility, are keeping their distance from the issue. A spokesperson said: “Surrey Fire and Rescue are leading on the cladding work across Surrey and we are only notified of an issue if a responsible person does not comply with Surrey Fire and Rescue.

“We work in partnership with Surrey Fire and Rescue and have powers under housing legislation to take action. We only do this when other routes do not achieve compliance and are happy to give advice and support anyone affected by these issues.”

Cllr Cait Taylor

But ward councillor Cait Taylor (Lib Dem, Friary & St Nicolas) said: “I am extremely troubled about this issue. It is one being faced by owners and residents up and down the country.

“What is additionally worrying here at The Bellerby Apartments is that it is not clear whether the owners are able to access or apply to any of the safety funds put in place by the government following the unearthing of this industry scandal, or whether the owners will have to meet the exorbitant remedial costs themselves through no fault of their own.”

 

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