People living in a luxury apartment block are “living in permanent darkness” because their entire building was wrapped in plastic.
Every inch of Islington Gate’s six-story tower block in Birmingham is covered in giant sheets, while workers replace the dangerous cladding with non-flammable materials.
Leaseholders, who paid between £160,000 and £200,000 for each of the 141 apartments in the city’s Jewelery Quarter, are now facing five-figure bills to install new cladding.
And due to delay in work, plastic means that they are not able to see out of their windows for six months.
Danny Kelly, who has been on the sixth floor as lessee since 2018, said: “There’s no sunlight, I can’t tell what the weather is.
“Workers are two meters away from my desk during the day – drilling, pulling bricks out is too loud.
“There is no privacy because people are walking every day.
“I either let people see my blinds all day or turn them off.”
Many of the residents are first-time buyers who purchased properties with mortgages before the fire safety review outlawed some cladding after the Grenfell fire tragedy.
The review found that Islington Gates’ aluminum and cedarwood cladding was different from Grenfell’s but was still very flammable and needed to be replaced.
Scaffolding was put up and workers began removing the cladding in April this year, but plastic sheets still covered the 250-metre-tall building.
As well as being deprived of a view and living in permanent dismay, residents have also complained of leaking roofs and mold.
Jennifer Reid, 40, bought her one-bedroom sixth-story flat in February 2019 and it was revealed later that year that there was “a significant fire safety issue”.
The marketing manager was initially slapped with £50,000, which has since been reduced to £30,000 with government help.
‘Dark and Cold’
Jennifer said: “The two years committed to buying a flat have been really difficult, horrible and then I found out I was on the hook for a really big bill.
“We had views across the city, but now the plastic completely blocks the light. It’s so pathetic.
“It’s dark and cold and complicated by the fact that they’ve taken out the bricks and it’s starting to get darker now so you have to have your lights on all the time.”
Meanwhile, his neighbor Danny, who lives with his 27-year-old fiancé Danielle Poole, says the five-figure bill he is facing has forced them to put their wedding plans on hold.
The 30-year-old said: “We had some wood and panel-style cladding that was very flammable.
“They also discovered fire safety flaws as if no fire was breaking out.
“He was signed as going in, but he didn’t.
“We had wooden balconies that needed to be removed.”
It’s dark and cold and complicated by the fact that they’ve taken out the bricks and it’s starting to get darker now so you have to have your lights on all the time
Danny said the lessees were told the building’s repair bill was £9 million and their share was up to £75,000.
The government’s Building Security Fund, announced in the 2020 spring budget, lowered his bill but still left him out of pocket.
He explained: “It’s gone down £10,000 or £11,000 but it’s still five figures.
“And I’ve lost my vision because of the plastic.”
Labor MP Shabana Mahmood of Birmingham Ladywood has been an advocate of leaseholders.
She said: “While it is welcome that the cladding work has finally begun, there are already significant delays.
“The damage to the flat is completely unacceptable.
“These issues are driving many leaseholders to the brink of financial ruin and only increasing the significant toll on the mental health of my constituents.”
The award-winning Islington Gates, which includes apartments, offices and restaurants, was built on the banks of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal at a cost of £30 million and was completed in 2018.
Philip Davis, chairman of Islington Gates’ Leaseholder Management Board, said: “The leaseholder board is well aware of the unpleasant conditions imposed by the removal of the cladding.
“Working with our Building Consultants and Works Contractor Woodman Brothers Ltd., we are making every effort to carry out fire protection works.
“The government grant that pays for some of the fire protection costs makes no provision for funding alternative housing.
“Any such cost will fall on all leaseholders and is not sustainable as we all already incur substantial costs for the negligence of the building industry.”
He added: “Unfortunately the plastic sheets covering the site and other impacts of the works are unavoidable as we move forward with over £8 million of fire protection works.”