UK Government wins building safety case against freeholder owned by railway pension fund; Grey GR issues statement

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UPDATED: This article was updated to include a statement from Grey GR.

Court rules in favour of government in building safety case

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has won a landmark legal challenge against freeholder Grey GR, forcing it to address serious safety issues at Vista Tower in Stevenage.

The legal action, initiated by the Government in October 2022, followed significant delays in addressing multiple fire safety concerns identified in 2019.

Grey GR, owned by Railpen, a scheme managing £34bn in assets, must comply with a Remediation Order to fix the safety issues within a mandated timeframe.

This judgment marks the first use of powers under the Building Safety Act by the Government to enforce building safety.

Leaseholders gain assurance through court ruling

The Court’s decision provides assurance to Vista Tower residents that their homes will be made safe without further delay.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove stated: “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.”

Gove also expressed disappointment with Railpen, saying: “It is 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.”

Impact of the ruling on future cases

The ruling serves as a warning to other building owners about the consequences of failing to address safety issues.

Gove added: “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.”

Vista Tower leaseholder Sophie Bichener welcomed the decision, stating: “This gives leaseholders the reassurance we deserve and is the closest we have been to regaining our freedom after what has been an extremely difficult few years.”

Government’s continued efforts to enforce building safety

The Government is also pursuing remediation orders for five additional Grey GR buildings.

One such building, The Chocolate Box in Bournemouth, has already seen the commencement of remediation works following government action.

Additionally, the Government has secured four remediation orders against freeholder Wallace Estates, benefiting around 400 leaseholders.

Councils, fire and rescue services, and the Building Safety Regulator have enforcement powers under the Building Safety Act to ensure building owners comply with their obligations.

Grey GR addresses government ruling on building safety

Following a court ruling in favour of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Grey GR has reiterated its dedication to ensuring the safety of residents in its properties.

The legal challenge, initiated by the government, mandates Grey GR to address safety issues at Vista Tower in Stevenage.

A spokesperson from Grey GR stated: “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.”

Court acknowledges ongoing remediation efforts

Grey GR highlighted that the tribunal recognized its ongoing efforts to remediate Vista Tower. The spokesperson noted: “The Department of Levelling Up Housing and Communities (DLUHC) accepted that Grey was committed to remediating Vista Tower. The tribunal’s judgement issued a Remediation Order solely to provide an additional ‘backstop to give reassurance’ to leaseholders.”

The tribunal also clarified that this order was “not a fault-based order” and would not alter the timeline for the completion of the agreed remediation works. Grey GR has committed to completing all works by Autumn 2025.

Addressing delays and funding challenges

Grey GR addressed the criticisms regarding delays in the remediation process.

The spokesperson explained: “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.”

The tribunal acknowledged that delays were partly due to Grey GR following the government’s complex guidance and advice on assessing the fire safety of Vista Tower.

The spokesperson continued: “Criticism of delays caused by Grey’s application to Building Safety Fund funding was ‘misplaced’, as Grey followed the government’s own complex guidance and advice.”

Grey GR’s call for improved government collaboration

Grey GR called for better collaboration with the government to expedite the remediation process.

The spokesperson said: “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.”

Grey GR expressed its hope to move forward and continue to be part of the solution: “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.”

IFSJ comment

This landmark case, the first under the Building Safety Act, sets a precedent for future enforcement actions, aiming to safeguard residents’ lives and ensure compliance from building owners.

The recent ruling in favour of the government marks a crucial development in the enforcement of building safety standards.

By leveraging powers under the Building Safety Act, the government has demonstrated its commitment to ensuring that freeholders like Grey GR address safety concerns promptly.

The court’s decision not only reassures residents of Vista Tower but also sets a precedent for other building owners, highlighting the legal consequences of failing to meet safety obligations.

As Grey GR has acknowledged the tribunal’s ruling and reiterated its commitment to safety, the case underscores the complexities involved in navigating regulatory frameworks and securing the necessary funding for remediation.

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