Harlow Council to consider demolition of two flat blocks in Sumners following order from Fire Service

News / Thu 25th Jan 2024 at 04:13pm

HARLOW Council is set to take the difficult decision to move residents out of two of its flat blocks in the town which face demolition due to increasing costs of works advised by the Fire Service. 

The council has so far spent over £300,000 on fire safety works on the four-storey flat blocks in Sycamore Field. More than £5.5m will need to be spent on further fire safety measures. 

Living in the 54 homes are 15 council tenants and 34 leaseholders. Five of the homes are currently vacant and the council is aware that 14 of the homes owned by leaseholders are let to private renters. 

With leaseholders in the block facing a major works bill of over £110,000, the council says the substantial cost of further improvement works recommended by the fire service, does not provide value for money, and it would be more cost effective to move people out and demolish the buildings. The works would also cause huge upheaval with all residents having to move out while the work is carried out.

Since December 2020, the council has implemented a range of improvements to the flat blocks following recommendations from the Fire Service. These have included improving non-recycling chutes and building new stores for recycling bins, closing the car parking under the flats, and introducing a waking watch to alert residents to any incidents and assist with evacuation. A full fire detection system throughout the building has also been installed. These improvements have cost over £300,000 with the waking watch alone running up a bill of £4,000 a week.

Further intrusive investigations of the buildings have taken place as homes have become vacant and have revealed that the external wall system doesn’t provide adequate fire protection. Investigations have also found that the issues run deeper in that most structures in the building do not have the right compartmentation to stop the spread of fire. This means the entire wall system and structure would need upgrading. The issue is further complicated by asbestos in the walls which would require removal during works.

Although the works would contribute to further improving fire safety, the waking watch and closure of car parking may have to remain in place permanently.  

The fire service has served an enforcement notice on the council which expires in October this year and the council must now decide what to do.

A report recommending the demolition of both blocks will be considered by the council’s cabinet on 15 February 2024. The meeting, which starts at 7.30pm, will also be streamed live online via the council’s webcasting service. 

If the report is approved, tenants and leaseholders will receive support from the council before and during the process of moving out. The process of moving people would be carried out gradually over several months. Tenants would be given the highest priority band for other council homes and receive financial compensation, and leaseholders would be fully compensated so they can buy or rent another home. In the first instance those privately renting would need to seek help from their landlords, and the council will look to support private renters where it can.

Legislation is in place to financially compensate and support both council tenants and leaseholders who find themselves in this difficult situation. The council will also develop a specific policy for moving residents. This will set out the exact procedures including the final compensation levels payable to tenants and leaseholders, the rehousing process for tenants and the arrangements for leasehold properties the council will repurchase. Full details of the compensation policy will be shared with tenants and leaseholders once a decision is made by Cabinet in February.

The council has written directly to residents, and if the demolition is approved, tenants and leaseholders will be offered individual meetings where they can discuss their needs and circumstances. A single point of contact will shortly be appointed for all tenants and leaseholders.

Councillor Dan Swords, the Leader of the Council, said:

“I know this news has come as a shock to the residents who face the unsettling prospect of being moved permanently out of their homes. Despite the efforts of the council to make improvements, further advice from the fire service, the spiralling costs ,and detailed building work to meet the satisfaction of the fire service’s enforcement notice, we have little alternative but to consider the demolition of both blocks. I am sorry that we have had to deliver this news to those residents who live in those blocks. I appreciate that this is the most difficult and unsettling time for them.  

“This is not a decision we will take lightly and follows extensive investigations and considerations by the council and close working with the fire service. We have carried out works in other flat blocks and tower blocks in the town, but the situation at Sycamore Field is unique and we must now decide what to do. These works are simply to meet the fire service’s recommendations and are not because the council hasn’t maintained the buildings. Independent specialists are telling us that we will need to spend well over £5.5m on further works, which will deliver no other improvements to the look or energy efficiency of the buildings. It is a huge amount of money to spend on top of the £300,000 we have spent so far. There is no guarantee that these works will adequately protect the block and that further work won’t then be required.

“Following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, safety standards are regularly reviewed and updated and councils and building owners across the country are making improvements, but there is a substantial cost in doing so, particularly for leaseholders who must pay towards such works.

“If the report is agreed, council tenants and leaseholders will be fully supported by the council and will be protected by law and through the compensation policy that we will develop. I want to make it clear that in the meantime measures like the waking watch and closure of the car parking under the flats will remain in place. But we must find a permanent solution, and unfortunately that is likely to be that we will have to move people out and demolish the buildings.”

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4 Comments for Harlow Council to consider demolition of two flat blocks in Sumners following order from Fire Service:

Sumners Resident
2024-01-25 17:56:31

Cllr S, that sounds rather accusatory and deflecting blame. I agree with Luke H. Perfect location waiting for the residents, don't you think?

2024-01-25 19:57:27

Iain Lindsay, The Burnt Mill flats were indeed sold by a private developer, but Harlow Council had first refusal to buy them, and should have knowing this was coming.

Emma blakey
2024-01-25 21:54:54

I live in scyamore field flats it's horrible news as we let from an agency. We don't know what is going to happen to us we have less rights

2024-01-25 23:02:42

The decision of Harlow Council may we be right course of action, but it should be those who own the homes who make the decision - That is what would happen in almost every other country in the World - We have to get rid of the feudal Leasehold scam - Does Kier Starmer's Labour have the grit to tackle it or are in for more of the same?

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