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Government wins landmark fire safety case against freeholder Grey GR

20 May 2024

THE DEPARTMENT for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has won a landmark legal challenge against freeholder Grey GR, in turn forcing the latter to remedy serious building safety issues discovered at Vista Tower in Stevenage.

Legal action was launched by the Government against Grey GR in October 2022 following unacceptable delays in fixing multiple fire safety issues, which were first identified at the location in Hertfordshire back in 2019.

Grey GR is ultimately owned by Railpen, a scheme that manages no less than £34 billion pounds’ worth in assets.

Following the trial in March, the presiding legal officials have decided 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.

Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 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 the leaseholders in Vista Tower and, indeed, leaseholders across the country.”

Gove continued: “It’s hugely disappointing that Railpen has kept leaseholders in limbo in this way. Railway workers with their pensions invested in this fund, as well as innocent leaseholders, deserve better.”

Further, Gove asserted: “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.”

Necessary reassurance

Sophie Bichener, one of the leaseholders in Vista Tower, stated: “I’m very pleased to see this Remediation Order has been made. It gives leaseholders the reassurance we deserve and is the closest we’ve been to regaining our freedom after what has been an extremely difficult few years.”

In addition, Bichener noted: “We thank the Secretary of State for bringing this Remediation Order forward. It will have a huge impact on our lives. We hope that our involvement in this case will bring hope to many others who are waiting for their freeholders to do the right thing and make their homes a safe place in which to live.”

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

Following commencement of legal action, Grey GR started work on Vista Tower in January this year. The Remediation Order will provide an exact date by which the work must be completed or Grey GR could face legal sanctions.

Response from Grey GR

Grey GR has issued a formal statement in response to the Government and the ruling.

A spokesperson from Grey GR has commented: “The safety of residents has been and remains Grey GR’s (Grey’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 on remediation work. By its own admission during the final hearing, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities accepted that Grey was committed to remediating Vista Tower.”

The statement continues: “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’s important to note the Tribunal’s determination that this is ‘not a fault-based order’, nor that the terms of the Remediation Order will change the timeline for delivery of the agreed remediation. Indeed, the Remediation Order is based solely on the plans already submitted by Grey and that are already in progress.”  

Further, the spokesperson notes: “Additionally, the Tribunal asserted that criticism of delays caused by Grey's application for 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 the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ statement, internal works throughout the building were completed in 2023, while 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. The court acknowledged that the Remediation Order has no bearing on our ability to speed up the process.”

In addition, the spokesperson comments: “As detailed during the hearing, we have faced numerous delays during the remediation process in our attempts to seek the clarity needed from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities 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.”

The statement concludes: “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.”

Remediation Orders

The Government is also seeking Remediation Orders on a further five Grey GR buildings that have gone – 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 GR has now initiated remediation works.

The Government has already secured four Remediation Orders against freeholder Wallace Estates to the benefit of approximately 400 leaseholders who had faced delays to remediation works at their properties.

Councils, Fire and Rescue Services and the Building Safety Regulator all have powers under the Building Safety Act 2022 to take enforcement action against building owners who are not complying with their obligations in discharging their responsibilities to leaseholders.