Apartments flooded with raw sewage, balconies not safe enough to stand on, corridors riddled with fire hazards and even vehicles crushed by falling debris – not what you’d expect in a property sold as a ‘safe and quality’ home.
But this, and worse, is exactly what some 2,000 residents of the Celestia development in Cardiff have been dealing with for more than a decade – and they’re now expected to foot the bill to fireproof the development, potentially costing them millions of pounds.
Built between 2005 and 2007 by Laing O’Rourke on behalf of property developer Redrow, the Cardiff waterfront development consists of seven high-rise blocks and is home to 457 flats.
But soon after the doors opened and residents moved in, problems began piling up.
Residents of Cardiff’s Celestia development describe the situation as ‘shocking and worrying’
Ruptured pipes flooded flats with raw sewage. Rainwater leaked through the windows, pathways flooded, and residents were told not to stand on their balconies after concerns were raised over safety.
In one shocking case, a piece of render fell from one of the buildings, crushing a car.
But most shocking of all are the unaddressed fire risks riddled throughout the buildings – risks residents say are causing them deep anxiety.
An independent buildings survey carried out in July 2019 by Heartland found that in some circumstances there had been ‘no attempt to install any fire-stopping whatsoever’ in the buildings.
In some instances it found no attempt at fireproofing cables and gaps under doors that would allow fires to spread quickly. It also found what it described as ‘masses’ of expanding foam used as fire sealant.
Residents say a lack of fire proofing in the block is causing them deep anxiety
The survey report found: ‘There is a theme of very poor or non-existent fire-stopping through all seven buildings… We recommend that the shortcomings are addressed as quickly as possible.’
South Wales Fire and Rescue have since issued enforcement notices which residents say prohibit disabled and elderly people from living in or visiting one of the buildings.
Meanwhile, the leaseholders are facing having to potentially pay tens of thousands of pounds each to ensure the flats are safe to live in.
One concerned resident told This is Money: ‘I bought the property in 2007 as part of my pension plans. Within about five years the problems with the property began to emerge.
‘Today the flats are effectively worthless due to a whole series of major construction and fire safety defects.
‘It’s shocking, deeply stressful and worrying. There are young families in here. There are retirement plans on hold as a result. People can’t move. It is a shocking injustice, and we’ve been trying to sort it out for years.’
What does the developer say?
Claims against the developer Redrow are restricted to a 10-year time frame under the terms of their warranty, and for most residents this has now passed.
However, there are around 50 residents who can still claim. For them, their opportunity expires on 16 November this year – 10 days’ time.
One resident told This is Money: ‘We have been pushing Redrow to agree to a standstill that would stop the clock and allow an extension to the time frame within which we can claim. We’ve made two offers and they have rejected both.’
A fire report in July found what it described as ‘masses’ of expanding foam used as fire sealant
Redrow told This is Money that it had no plans to agree to an extension for the residents.
A spokesman for the company said: ‘The situation at Celestia is far from unique, since the tragic Grenfell disaster many high-rise apartment blocks across England and Wales have been inspected revealing issues with fire protection.
‘There are also probably many more blocks around the country with similar issues that remain undiscovered.
‘At Celestia the Welsh Fire and Rescue Service have served enforcement notices requiring two areas of work to be completed within the next 12 months. Firstly, some internal fire stopping needs to be undertaken and secondly, an improved evacuation plan has to be implemented.
‘The development was completed many years ago, and whilst Redrow do not own the freehold and did not design or construct the buildings at Celestia, we have been working with the managing agents and put forward a proposal to provide funding for the works to comply with the enforcement notice and install a new fire alarm system.’
Certain pathways in the development are prone to flooding, which resident worry may hamper access for emergency vehicles in the event of a fire
The spokesman added: ‘We do appreciate the residents have been particularly concerned over the safety of the building in the event of a fire. The proposals we have tabled largely address these concerns and should give them the reassurances they seek.’
The funding proposals Redrow has put forward take the form of an interest-free loan to the group’s management company – an offer residents have branded ‘insulting’.
‘It would be like we were paying for our homes twice,’ said one homeowner.
Residents don’t yet know how much they will be expected to pay for repairs, but worry that costs will be in the millions.
This is Money asked Redrow what it had to say to the residents who believe the flats they bought were not as advertised.
The spokeman responded: ‘All of our homes, regardless of whether they are built by us or a main contractor, are covered by a 10-year warranty period.
‘Any claims made during this period are addressed under the terms of the warranty.
‘Notwithstanding this, in the case of the works that are required under the enforcement notices, we have taken a pragmatic decision and made a proposal to provide funding for the works to be undertaken as soon as practical.’
He also added that the firm is in ‘ongoing discussions’ with builder Laing O’Rourke regarding the development.
A Laing O’Rourke spokesperson said: ‘Laing O’Rourke is in discussions with Celestia Management Company Limited as Celestia Management Company work through their investigations. We are unable to comment further at this time.’
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