Council halts refurb of Parkside Estate as it launches cladding review in wake of Grenfell inferno

Neighbours on the Parkside Estate have been campaigning against the use of external wall insulation

Neighbours on the Parkside Estate have been campaigning against the use of external wall insulation since January. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

All housing projects requiring external cladding have been “paused” by Hackney Council in the wake of the Grenfell Tower inferno.

Blocks on the Parkside Estate. Picture: Polly Hancock

Blocks on the Parkside Estate. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

The town hall is carrying out fire safety checks on all its buildings across the borough after flammable cladding was widely blamed for the blaze in Kensington.

Hackney says fire safety checks are up-to-date on all its buildings and today insisted none of them have Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding, but it is carrying out assessments anyway.

One of the places where work has been put on hold is the Parkside Estate in South Hackney, where campaigners have been fighting plans to cover the low-rise blocks in panels of external wall insulation (EWI) since being told about it six months ago.

Leaseholders were sent Section 20 notices in January informing them of the major renovation and telling them to cough up eye-watering amounts between £20,000 and £40,000 – fees now being reviewed by the town hall.

Residents and leaseholders on the Parkside Estate. Picture: Polly Hancock

Residents and leaseholders on the Parkside Estate. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

The list of works includes window replacements, concrete, brick and light repairs and decoration. But it is the EWI, which comes at the biggest cost, that architects and housing experts who live there have taken issue with.

One architect explained the popularity of external cladding to the Gazette: “The government has been pushing councils to improve thermal performance and this cladding is a quick win.

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“But it’s clear from the information it saves about £2.80 a week [per flat in energy bills]. Over the next 60 years you don’t even get that back based on today’s prices.

“The EWI has a 20-year life span too. So it doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand it. It’s usually used on very simple buildings, straight up, straight down. The more different shapes you have, like on Parkside, the harder it gets to fit.”

If installed correctly the cladding is not a fire risk, according to the architect, who did not want to be named.

But the harder it is to fit, the higher the margin for error, which is what the group has been worried about for months.

The architect said having pipes running through the EWI, which is the case on the estate, is problematic, and even if the outside is fireproof metal, the inside is “basically polystyrene”.

“The alarm bells started ringing for us when the council brought in an EWI seller to talk to residents,” he said. “They provide it to the contractor, and they are not experts at fitting it. No one takes any responsibility. It’s pretty scary stuff.

“Our questions have never really been answered. They just say: ‘It will be fine – we’ve done it before.’

“It’s a top-down issue from the government. There’s no incentive for anybody to question it. It’s to tick a box but they are dealing with people’s homes, it’s really frightening.”

The man said some people living on estates don’t get treated with respect, and don’t know what questions to ask, but that he does.

“If you’re going to do the EWI, then you need to wrap the whole building in it,” he continued. “If you’re not doing the whole building it’s pointless.

“We have an external walkway that will be wrapped in it. If there’s a problem with it, it’s on fire – it’s crazy.”

The council said the EWI is intended to tackle the “serious damp and mould issues” on the estate, which it has been discussing with tenants and leaseholders since 2015.

But the architect said it is not the best solution. “The safest thing is to have no external wall insulation,” he said. “Do it on the inside, in flats that need it.

“The council have a duty of care – they are responsible for people’s lives. You can’t treat that lightly. There’s really unfortunate stuff going on to highlight it and we know when serious things happen that’s when people listen.”

The town hall added: “We have not made any final decisions about what materials will be used, the extent or cost of the works.

“We are also looking at options that may help reduce the cost to leaseholders.

“Leaseholders will be consulted on the works once the council’s revised proposal has been prepared and will be fully informed about the Section 20 process and timelines.”