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Fri July 19 2024

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Vista Tower in Stevenage [as seen on Google Streetview]
Vista Tower in Stevenage [as seen on Google Streetview]

Grey GR, ultimately owned by Railpen, a scheme that manages £34bn in railway pension assets, was sued by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities for failing to fix serious building safety issues in Vista Tower in Stevenage.

Multiple fire safety issues were identified in the building in 2019, two years after the Grenfell Tower fire that brought cladding dangers to prominence. Levelling up secretary Michael Gove began legal action against Grey GR, as the freehold owner, in October 2022 following delays in fixing the problems.

Following the trial in March 2024, the court decided on 9th May in favour of the government and will issue a remediation order imposing a legally binding requirement on Grey GR to fix building safety issues within a mandated timeframe.

Secretary of state Michael Gove said: “Leaseholders have lived with uncertainty for far too long while Grey GR delayed essential works to make homes safe. This decision is a victory for leaseholders in Vista Tower and across the country.”

He added: “It is hugely disappointing that Railpen – the ultimate owner of Grey GR and who manage £34bn in ‘assets’ – has kept leaseholders in limbo in this way. Railway workers with their pensions invested in this fund, as well as innocent leaseholders, deserve better.

“This court case should serve as a warning to all building owners. If you fail to fix your unsafe buildings and ensure the safety of residents, we will see you in court. We will not stop until we secure justice for leaseholders.”

The Vista Tower case was the first legal action brought by the government under new powers introduced through the Building Safety Act 2022.

Following the start of legal action, Grey began work on Vista Tower in January 2024. The remediation order will provide a specific date by which the work must be completed or Grey could face sanction by the court.

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The government is also seeking remediation orders on a further five Grey GR buildings that have or will be going to trial over the next year. This includes The Chocolate Box in Bournemouth where, as a result of government legal action, Grey has now also finally started remediation works.

A Grey GR spokesperson responded: "The safety of residents has been and remains Grey GR's utmost priority. We have always been fully committed to remediating the buildings for which we are responsible, including Vista Tower, where we have made considerable progress remediating. By its own admission during the final hearing, the Department of Levelling Up Housing & Communities (DLUHC) accepted that Grey was committed to remediating Vista Tower.

“While we are satisfied with the tribunal's judgement to issue a remediation order solely to provide an additional "backstop to give reassurance" to leaseholders, it is important to note the tribunal's determination that this is "not a fault-based order", nor that the terms of the order will change the timeline for delivery of the agreed remediation. Indeed, the order is based solely on the plans already submitted by Grey and that are already in progress.

“Additionally, the tribunal asserted that criticism of delays caused by Grey's application to Building Safety Fund funding was ‘misplaced’, due to Grey having followed the government's own complex guidance and advice in assessing the fire safety of Vista Tower.

“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."

The government has also already secured four remediation orders against another freeholder, Wallace Estates.

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MPU
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