RESIDENTS of a high-rise apartment block in Basingstoke are facing a bill for thousands of pounds after it was revealed their homes were covered in combustible material, The Gazette has been told.

24-hour fire patrols have been deployed to Crown Heights on Alencon Link after the building failed a cladding test in December 2020.

Last night, The Gazette revealed how the apartment block, which contains 250 flats as well as a gym, two doctors surgeries and a convenience store, was covered in a combustible cladding that fatally wrapped Grenfell Tower.

Expanded polystyrene, also known as EPS, was found in the building's cladding in a survey, with no fire breaks included.

Now, this newspaper has been told that the leaseholders calling Crown Heights their home will be asked to foot a bill that could reach thousands of pounds.

A waking watch, which is a 24-hour-a-day patrol of the building to spot any fire risks, has been introduced whilst a new fire detection system is installed.

Whilst the exact cost is not known, the patrols will cost an average of £6,700 per week.

FirstPort, the property manager of Crown Heights, have said that a reserve fund will "help to cover this cost", but have not guaranteed that leaseholders will not be expected to cover the costs should this not be enough.

Interim measures

The waking watch is an interim measure after the building failed the intrusive cladding survey in December 2020.

It will see continuous patrols inside and around the exteriors of the building, in order for any fires to be spotted, the alarm to be raised, and the building to be evacuated.

FirstPort have confirmed to The Gazette that it has been put in place while a new fire detection system is installed.

A spokesperson said: "The safety of our residents is our first priority, and we understand that this is an unsettling time for residents of Crown Heights.

"Based on the advice of an independent specialist fire engineer, waking watch and amendments to the fire evacuation procedures have been implemented as a temporary measure at the development.

"The waking watch will be removed as soon as a new fire detection system is installed. This is currently being tendered and we are working hard to get this installed as soon as possible so the waking watch can be removed.

"We are also working to submit an application for Crown Heights to the Government's new Waking Watch Relief Fund, which we hope will secure funding for the fire alarm installation if this application is successful."

The Gazette reported on Wednesday how residents will now be asked to evacuate in the event of a fire, with the previous 'stay put' order being rescinded.

'Leaseholders shouldn't have to pay'

It comes after the government, the council, and the town's MP have all said that leaseholders should not be expected to foot the bill of the costs.

In a statement released earlier on Thursday, Maria Miller said: "Residents didn’t create these problems. And residents should not be left unfairly footing the bill if house builders have failed to put in place essential fire safety measures."

Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council's cabinet member for homes and families has also come out against leaseholders footing the bill.

Cllr Tristan Robinson said: "My prime concern is the safety and wellbeing of our residents. I was approached by Crown Heights residents worried about the interim fire safety measures the building’s owners have in place following a recent survey report. Last week I attended a virtual residents’ association meeting to talk to more residents and hear their concerns.

“In response, we set up a group of specialist senior officers to look into what action needs to be taken as a matter of urgency.

“Residents didn't create these problems, and we are committed to working with the freeholder, management company, and home builder to remove the cost of the waking watch, introduced for their safety, and ensure that a new interlinked alarm system is installed as soon as possible.

“Discussions with the building management company and the fire service have reassured us about the interim safety measures to protect residents. I am clear that the management company and freeholder need to progress their plans to install a new alarm system at pace, followed by any additional work deemed necessary on the building to give further reassurance. We will do what we can, working closely with the fire and rescue service, to ensure the work needed is carried out as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told The Gazette: "Leaseholders shouldn’t have to worry about the unaffordable costs of fixing safety defects in high-rise buildings that they didn’t cause - and should be protected from large-scale remediation costs wherever possible.

“We all want to see homes made safer, as quickly as possible and backed by our £1.6 billion funding we are making good progress on remediating unsafe homes. We are also working at pace to develop further financial solutions to protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs.

“Our £30 million Waking Watch Relief Fund is now open for applications and will help end the scandal of excessive waking watch costs for residents living in the highest-risk buildings with unsafe cladding.”