The High Court of London has issued a landmark ruling establishing legal liability for remedial safety work in buildings.
In a ruling issued on Thursday 14 July, Mulalley & Co, an Essex-based contractor, was ordered to pay compensation for the cost of removing cladding that had been installed on four apartment towers in Gosport on the south coast of England deemed unsafe following a tower fire. Greenville.
The contractor has reportedly refurbished the EWI cladding using StoTherm Classic, but this consists of an inner layer of EPS polystyrene (EPS) insult board, and adhesive. The EPS and acrylic to which it was applied were both combustibles, which created a fire hazard that had not previously existed with concrete construction. StoTherm Classic incorporated horizontal mineral wool baffles on each floor above the third floor to mitigate this risk, however, Marlet Homes (which acquired Gosport Towers in 2017) created a fire safety team to respond to concerns after Grenfell.
Marlette Homes’ investigation is said to have also revealed serious flaws in the installation, including defects in the installation of fire barriers, which created a risk that it would not function as intended to prevent the spread of fire.
Marlet Homes has taken action to completely remove the EWI cladding system and replace it with a non-combustible system using stone wool insulation panels in place of EPS.
Marlet was awarded nearly £8 million in compensation by the court, seeking to cover the costs of the investigation, removal and replacement of the EWI cladding system, along with wake-hour fire safety measures until the EWI was removed.
HHJ Stephen Davies determined that the system was defectively installed with insufficient and/or improper provision for firing bore bulks and, as a result, did not comply with building regulations.
‘Huge impacts on the market’
Andy Holm, chief executive of the housing association Hyde Group, which brought the lawsuit via its subsidiary Martlet Homes against Mulalley, said the case has “enormous market implications.” He added that it should help resolve disputes between tenants living in blocks with combustible cladding and building owners over who should pay for their removal.
“It’s the first time a contractor has been held accountable for the quality of work and the materials they used…Based on this case, we now know where the lines of accountability lie,” he said.
Mary Ann Boring, a fire safety expert and group managing director at real estate consultancy Ringley Group, described the ruling as “a milestone that gives hope to the millions of residents who live in unsafe buildings by opening up the possibility of legal action against other building contractors who have installed them.” Cladding unsafe.”
“However, it is simply not enough to expect developers and housing associations to take further legal action following today’s ruling in order to recover the money spent on repairing unsafe buildings,” she added.
Instead, she said, the government should pay up front to repair faulty buildings and recover costs from builders at a later time.
For contractors, who typically operate with a small cash reserve, the ruling could have serious implications. Holm said Hyde had spent a total of £80m across its property portfolio on fire safety and remediation, and had been pursuing “a number of other issues with other contractors” to recover some of that.
Legal firm Clyde and Co. commented on the case with great insight, stating that “the significance of this decision cannot be overstated and has the potential to set a long-standing precedent in future flammable cladding claims, adding that these disputes will undoubtedly be evaluated in a case.” on a case-by-case basis, particularly with regard to the appropriateness of the treatment plans being implemented.
Lawyers from the company stated: “Developers and building owners will be encouraged by the TCC position on vigilance monitoring cost recovery as this type of precaution has been used extensively.
“TCC has demonstrated in this decision that it will take a strict look at the compliance of the external wall system with building regulations in force at the time of construction.
“Despite the plaintiff’s success in this matter, the decision highlights the importance of completing and passing the BS-8414 test for the contractor as the court indicated that buildings that had not been tested in accordance with BS-8414 or BR135 were unlikely to be identified as compliant with building regulations .
“This statement offers some hope to contractors that BS-8414 and BR135 test permits may be accepted by the courts as evidence of a path to compliance with building regulations, and therefore any contractors facing claims of this nature should ensure that they have proof that the test passes. The decision also serves as an important reminder for contractors to identify and engage with relevant members of the supply chain who the contractor may be able to transfer all or part of any responsibility to as soon as possible.”
The 2017 Grenfell Fire, which killed 72 people, caused a widespread building safety crisis. A long-running investigation into the fire has revealed severe practice and abuse in the construction and organization of high-rise towers in England. The total cost of repairing unsafe buildings across England is expected to exceed £10 billion and at the moment it is largely paid for by taxpayers and developers through tax.
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