Newham is first council to successfully prosecute building owner for delays in removing dangerous cladding

The Lumiere Building in Forest Gate  (Google Street View)
The Lumiere Building in Forest Gate (Google Street View)

The owner of an east London tower block has been found guilty in a landmark criminal case over delays in replacing dangerous cladding after the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Chaplair Limited faced prosecution by Newham Council after it failed to meet a March 2021 deadline for work on the Lumiere Building, an apartment block on Romford Road in Forest Gate.

Westminster magistrates court heard four types of flammable cladding were found on the block of 71 flats in 2019, including the same type of aluminium composite material which contributed to the Grenfell fire.

The council issued an improvement notice and brought a criminal case when the deadline passed without work even starting. It is believed to be the first time a local authority has used its powers under the 2004 Housing Act for a cladding-related prosecution.

On Wednesday, Deputy Chief Magistrate Tan Ikram found Chaplair guilty of failing to comply with the improvement notice, and adjourned sentencing until October 31.

The company had argued it faced unavoidable delays when it could not agree a deal with original contractor Willmott Dixon, and the firm was replaced.

It said a £1 million funding shortfall – blamed on government delays - and the need for Network Rail to agree the works had contributed to missing the deadline.

Ian Dick, a project manager at Newham council, told the court they considered the possibility of taking over the block for the safety of residents when the recladding work foundered.

He said Chaplair withheld information on the progress of the work from the council, leaving officials “working in a vacuum of knowledge”.

The judge found that the building owners were responsible for seeking government funding for the urgent works, and there was “undoubtedly delay in funding from government”.

But he added: “The defendants had choices to make, and in my view, have failed to satisfy me that they made the reasonable one.

“They took a risk or a ‘gamble’ that the government would eventually pick up the bill.

“The Defendants have failed to satisfy me that the decision to wait it out till government funding became available, was reasonable, bearing in mind the real danger that was posed to the occupiers of the building.”

He said blame for the delays due to the change of contractor and the approval needed from Network Rail ultimate sat with Chaplair.

Work to replace the cladding on the Lumiere Building was eventually completed by February 2022.

Newham Council hailed the court ruling as a “major milestone” for its campaign for action on dangerous cladding.

“Through our Newham Cladding Action campaign to protect the rights of residents in our borough, we have zero tolerance for owners of buildings delaying essential life-saving fire safety work”, said Rokhsana Fiaz OBE, Mayor of Newham.

“Failing to remove dangerous cladding as quickly as possible places lives at risk and, where necessary, we will act with full force using the powers we have to protect our residents.

“Six years after the Grenfell Tower disaster, today’s decision by the court symbolises a landmark ruling in our fight to raise standards and hold building owners to account in Newham. It will also help authorities across the country to safeguard the interests of their residents using the powers available under vital housing legislation.

“This monumental ruling sends a clear warning to all building owners operating in Newham that they must act swiftly in the interest of our residents’ safety first and always, otherwise we will take decisive action against you.”