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In a challenging decision, Harlow Council is contemplating the demolition of Sycamore Field flats in Sumners, as the cost of essential fire safety work post-Grenfell Tower looms at a £5.5 million. Having already invested £300,000 based on fire service advice, the council faces a dilemma over the potential relocation of residents rather than shouldering the significant expense.
Council Leader Dan Swords acknowledged the gravity of the situation, expressing how the Grenfell tragedy necessitated safety reviews. However, he stressed the substantial financial burden associated with making the flats potentially safe. The decision, set to be discussed by the cabinet on 15th February, could result in the relocation of residents over several months.
Of the 54 homes in question, 34 are occupied by leaseholders, including 14 private renters, and 15 are home to council tenants. The remaining five homes are currently vacant. Mr. Swords described the situation as "absolutely devastating" for those affected, emphasising that the issue had been under scrutiny since initial inspections in December 2020.
"The latest advice is that in order to bring them to potentially safe standard - but there's no guarantee - we would have to spend in excess of £5.5 million," Mr. Swords explained. This would translate to a bill of over £110,000 for each leaseholder, a prospect deemed impractical by the council.
The council argues that undertaking necessary works would cause significant upheaval and suggests that it would be more cost-effective to relocate residents and demolish the buildings. Previous works on the flats included installing a full fire detection system, new recycling bin stores, and closing the car parking beneath the flats. However, maintaining a 24/7 surveillance system incurred a weekly bill of £4,000.
Investigations of vacant homes revealed the need for extensive upgrades to the entire wall system and structure, complicated further by the presence of asbestos. If the report recommending demolition is approved, residents would receive support and financial compensation, with tenants given the highest priority for other council homes.
Acknowledging the difficult and unsettling time for residents, Mr. Swords reiterated the unique challenges posed by the situation at Sycamore Field. Independent specialists have advised that spending well over £5.5 million on further works may not guarantee the block's adequate protection, raising concerns about potential future requirements. The council is now tasked with deciding the most sensible course of action for the residents and the affected properties.
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