Newham: Grenfell-style cladding lands Forest Gate tower block owner with £60k fine

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Chaplair Limited was taken to court over dangerous cladding at the Lumiere Building in Forest Gate, Newham, east London.

A tower block owner has been fined more than £60,000 for failing to replace Grenfell-style cladding in a landmark ruling.

Chaplair Limited was taken to court after failing to meet a deadline to remove dangerous cladding from the Lumiere Building, a 71-flat apartment block in Forest Gate, east London.

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Deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram told the letting company its inaction following the "tragedy" of Grenfell could have led to a similar disaster which could have claimed as many lives.

Mr Ikram fined the company £30,000 for its "calculated gamble" in holding out on the urgent replacement of the dangerous cladding until central government paid for the work in full.

He ordered them to pay another £30,000 to Newham Council, which was required under their statutory duty to order the company to replace the cladding following an inspection.

Mr Ikram told Westminster Magistrates’ Court: “The fact is, this was highly dangerous cladding on a building, the effects of which we have seen when the tragedy at Grenfell took place. Therefore, they knew the danger that this sort of construction posed.

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“This was a dangerous building and they failed to carry out the work, and that was through delay. There should have been urgency…more urgency from Chaplair in relation to dangerous material on a building which posed a high risk to its occupants. They knew the danger and they didn’t take the danger seriously enough.

“What Chaplair had done was effectively take a calculated gamble that government would ultimately deal with this. In the end it came good, as the government did cover all the building costs - but it took time.

“In terms of harm, it’s self evident: highly flammable cladding remained on the building for years after another building with that cladding had claimed so many lives.

“[Chaplair] were responsible for that building and they allowed for that risk to tenants to continue. Thankfully, in this case no actual harm was caused - though there was the potential for very serious harm.”

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Lumiere Building, a 71-flat apartment block in Forest Gate, Newham, east London. 
 (Photo by SWNS)Lumiere Building, a 71-flat apartment block in Forest Gate, Newham, east London. 
 (Photo by SWNS)
Lumiere Building, a 71-flat apartment block in Forest Gate, Newham, east London. (Photo by SWNS) | SWNS

The court previously heard at trial that Chaplair had failed to tell its solicitors about the improvement notice served on them by Newham Council following an inspection carried out with a joint inspection team in 2019.

However, Mr Ikram did acknowledge that the government’s policy on dangerous cladding was constantly changing following the pandemic.

He accepted that Chaplair Ltd had mitigated the risk of a potential fire by employing a night-watch team at the building and installing CCTV cameras.

The dangerous ACM and HPL cladding were finally removed from the Lumiere Building, where flats are listed online as being worth up to £360,000, in the spring of last year - around a year after the deadline served by Newham Council under the 2004 Housing Act.

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Julia Kendrick, on behalf of Chaplair Ltd, urged Mr Ikram to bear in mind that the company served as a "pension fund" to its shareholders, and argued against the "disproportionate" costs of around £114,000 Newham Council had claimed - which even included food expenses.

But Archie Maddan, prosecuting on behalf of Newham Council, told the court Chaplair should have been on alert the moment after the Grenfell disaster in June 2017, in which 72 people died after the West London tower burned for 60 hours having accelerated due to the presence of dangerously combustible cladding.

“Chaplair should have known from the moment post Grenfell, when everyone was checking their buildings,” he said.

“They didn’t even know they had a problem for years. There should have been an urgency by Chaplair about how potentially dangerous this was.”

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Following lengthy arguments over costs, Judge Ikram ordered Chaplair Ltd to pay £30,000 in fines and the same amount in costs to Newham Council, as well as £190 in victim surcharge. He ordered that the £30,000 in costs be paid to the local authority within 28 days.

The case is believed to be the first time a local authority has used its powers under the 2004 Housing Act for a prosecution related to cladding.

“Newham Council served an improvement notice on the company to remove or deal with cladding which was of the Grenfell type,” Mr Ikram said.

“There was and has been a long history in relation to this. [Chaplair] failed to notify the solicitors who acted on their behalf that there was an improvement notice in place that had a criminal sanction for non-compliance.

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“Solicitors were not aware of the improvement notice at all. Whilst they gave advice on the central aspects, Chaplair knew that they had to comply with the improvement notice as well.

“Therefore, any legal advice they received had to be in the context of that. I readily accept that this was an unprecedented situation. We had come out of Covid… government was responding to a crisis, and there was an evolving policy from government. There was complexities in this case because the policy didn’t completely cover the full extent of remedial works required.

“It’s a matter of public record that there was a lot of anxiety about how leaseholders would pick up the bill in relation to these works.

“I can see why Chaplair wrongly and unlawfully went in the wrong direction. But I have to say it’s beyond me that they didn’t tell their solicitors.”

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