'I feel trapped' - Portishead Marina residents speak out over fire safety crisis

  • Watch: Max Walsh's investigation into Portishead Marina.

Hundreds of residents living in apartments in Portishead Marina fear they could face paying thousands of pounds to fix fire safety faults, exposed following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

At least six blocks of flats have been found to have defects which include issues with cladding, combustible materials and missing safety features - all of which could increase the risk of fires spreading.

Building owners are responsible for making their properties safe. But many are worried the costs will end up being placed on those who live there.

Rhian Durnell has been signed off from work twice in the past six months because of stress.

Single mother Rhian Durnell bought an apartment in Portishead Marina in 2014.

She was sold by the views overlooking the Bristol Channel, but now she says she feels completely trapped.

"You invest in what you think is a reputable builder and buy your property from them and then all of a sudden your world just comes crashing down," she said.

Rhian lives in a block called 'Ninety4 on the Estuary'.

The Ninety4 on the Estuary building in Portishead Marina.

Last year, fire inspections revealed her home could be at risk of spreading fire rapidly. 

The report, published in July 2020, cited "the absence of correctly installed cavity barriers", "combustible timber decking on the balconies" and "combustible materials" used in the external wall construction.

It recommends extensive remedial work - but it is estimated that work could cost tens of thousands of pounds per flat.

'I feel completely trapped'

"I've been signed off work twice in six months just because of the stress it's causing," Rhian added.

"I just haven't got enough money to pay these bills. And I worry I'm going to lose my home, I may lose my job. I feel completely trapped. I can't get out."

Rhian Durnell says the experience has taken a toll on her health.

To make matters worse, Rhian and her fellow residents have already seen their service charge quadruple this year to pay for a 24-hour watch in case of a fire.

The company which manages the property says it has successfully applied for a government fund for an enhanced fire alarm system, which should remove the need for patrols once it is installed.

Gary owns six flats at the site.

Gary Lake owns six flats in Ninety4 on the Estuary.

He says it is hard to comprehend what is happening.

Gary explained: "I feel it's some form of dystopian nightmare. You've got covid and this started in the autumn and it's just got worse and worse and worse.

Across Portishead, there are at least six sites experiencing similar fire safety issues.

But it is believed there will be more as inspections continue.

It is a problem which has impacted the entire region with affected buildings in Swindon, Cheltenham, Bristol and Wells.

It is thought there will be more buildings affected as fire safety inspections continue.

Who should pay for the work?

Ritu Saha, from UK Cladding Action Group, said: "We definitely believe the stakeholders that caused this problem should be the ones to pay for it and they are the developers who built this without fire safety barriers, without adequate internal compartmentation with dangerous cladding.

"We also believe that building control has a very important role because lots of building control signed off these dangerous blocks as safe without due diligence."

What does the building developer say?

Crest Nicholson built 'Ninety4 on the Estuary'.

A spokesperson for the company said: "Crest Nicholson completed the construction of 94 On The Estuary in 2015 with all the necessary regulatory approvals.

"The materials selected for use in the external walls were compliant with Building Regulations at the time of construction and continue to be compliant now.

Residents say they are confused by the situation.

"The materials in the walls do not therefore require replacement. However, changes will be required to balconies as a result of government guidance issued since 2019 but this is not a Crest Nicholson responsibility as the new guidance post-dates construction of the building but we are liaising with both the managing agent and the building owner on the matter.

"Certain workmanship defects have been identified and fully acknowledged by Crest Nicholson at 94 On The Estuary, and we are planning to return to rectify those defects as soon as we obtain the necessary approvals.

"This remedial work will be done at no cost to leaseholders.”

What about the warranty provider?

The National House Building Council (NHBC) provided a warranty for 'Ninety4 on the Estuary'.

They said: "Claims relating to cavity barriers at Ninety4 on the Estuary have been accepted in accordance with the cover provided by our Buildmark policy.

"Any claims received for properties on the Portishead Marina that have an NHBC policy will be considered under the cover we provide.”

Grenfell Tower in London.

The Government has made £5bn available to help pay to replace unsafe cladding. 

"The Government is bringing forward the biggest improvements to building and fire safety in 40 years, including through a comprehensive £5bn plan to help protect hundreds of thousands of leaseholders from the cost of replacing unsafe cladding on their homes," the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government said.

"For lower-rise buildings which have a lower risk, our generous capped finance scheme will ensure bills are a maximum of £50 per month - our approach strikes the right balance in protecting leaseholders and being fair to taxpayers."

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