First case brought using new Building Safety Act remediation order powers 

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has won a legal case against the freeholder Grey GR after delays to building safety remediation work on a Stevenage residential tower.

The decision of the Eastern First-Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) means the court will now issue a remediation order requiring Grey GR, owned by pension fund manager Railpen, to fix the defects at the 15-storey Vista Tower in a certain timeframe or face further sanctions.

The case is the first time the government has used new powers under the Building Safety Act to require building owners to fix defects. 

vista tower

Vista Tower in Stevenage in 2021 (picture: Google)

The government first took legal action against Grey GR in 2022 following a two-year delay in fixing fire safety issues in the tower, which were first found in 2019. The government then gave Grey GR three weeks to carry out the required cladding or face court action.

Michael Gove said: “Leaseholders have lived with uncertainty for far too long while Grey GR delayed essential works to make homes safe. This decision is a victory for leaseholders in Vista Tower and across the country.”

>See also: Will DLUHC legal action be the ‘final nudge’ needed to fix fire safety defects?

“This court case should serve as a warning to all building owners. If you fail to fix your unsafe buildings and ensure the safety of residents, we will see you in court. We will not stop until we secure justice for leaseholders.”

However, Grey GR argued that the government’s application to the court had been “issued prematurely” as it had always been fully committed to carrying out the work. Grey GR said there had been a delay to securing funding “ caused mainly by the obfuscation and inaction of DHLUC. “

In its ruling, the court said: “We consider that there has been delay on both sides but that has to be seen in the context of the Grenfell fire and the sea change brought to the regulation of the construction industry and enforcement of fire safety in high-rise buildings.”

The court noted that Grey GR has started work, having entered into a JCT works contract with its contractors and a grant funding arrangement with Homes England, with practical completion by September 2025. It was therefore “difficult to see whether a remediation order will make any practical difference.”.

However the court decided a remediation order would reassure leaseholders.

It said: “It is appropriate to make a remediation order but as a backstop to give reassurance; this is not a fault-based order or a case where an order should set short deadlines and expect active interventions to put pressure on a defaulting landlord.”

Sophie Bichener, leaseholder in Vista Tower said: “This gives leaseholders the reassurance we deserve and is the closest we have been to regaining our freedom after what has been an extremely difficult few years.”

In 2022, the government launched its recovery strategy unit (RSU) which is a team that investigates firms who are not delivering required building safety work. Last year, the building safety minister, Lee Rowley said that the unit is investigating 19 firms. 

The government is also seeking remediation orders on a further five Grey GR buildings that have or will be going to trial over the next year.