'Horrendous situation': Southend residents in row over repairs to 'rotting' balconies

'Horrendous situation': Southend residents in row over repairs to 'rotting' balconies <i>(Image: Laura Angell)</i>
'Horrendous situation': Southend residents in row over repairs to 'rotting' balconies (Image: Laura Angell)

RESIDENTS in a 15-year-old block of flats say they are locked in a battle with the developer over balconies which they claim are “one step away from falling down”.

Homeowners in Plaza Royal Mews, Southend, say they have struggled for five years to get their water-damaged balconies repaired.

They claim developer NR Powell Developments has failed to help them.

Managing agent Scott and Stapleton wrote to residents in June 2018 saying an investigation of the balconies showed rotting decking boards and joists and they were advised not to use them.

They were then informed in 2021 the timber cladding also has to come off over fire safety risks.

It is believed balconies of 12 flats are affected.

In July Southend Council building inspectors ordered 79-year-old Gillian Humphries’ balcony to be locked after condemning it as dangerous.

It has left her without fresh air as she battles chronic obstructive airways disease (COPD).

Ms Humphries paid £800 to a contractor recommended by Scott and Stapleton to undertake remedial work on her balcony, but the new wood planking also rotted within a year.

She then spent another £400 to have half the balcony repaired again.

An independent surveyor’s report in 2022 ordered scaffolding to be installed immediately.

It was found the balconies needed work to make them structurally sound before they can be repaired properly but this cannot start until the cladding work is completed.

Her daughter, Laura Angell, 46, from London, said: “The surveyor said it was the second worst case he’d ever seen of dry rot and the balconies had no run-offs so were structurally unsafe from the get go.

“My mum has got very bad COPD. Not to have a balcony for five years was ridiculous.”

Ms Angell added: “Residents are quite happy to pay for the balcony repairs. They just want the work done. There are three that can’t sell their properties now because you can’t get mortgage on them. It’s an absolutely horrendous situation.

“The council building inspector wouldn’t put a foot on it. He said it was one step away from falling down. The developer was given 21 days to get scaffolding up which he’s done, then they locked the door from the outside so through all of the heatwave she’s had to sit in the park to get fresh air. It’s just wrong.”

David Garston, councillor responsible for housing said: “We have given advice that the balcony at this address is not safe to use in its current condition. Anything beyond that is a private matter between the parties concerned and we hope it can be quickly and amicably resolved.”

Repair costs ‘grossly unfair to all of us’

Norman Powell, owner of NR Powell Developments, said work was underway to put together a schedule for repairs with agreements being sought from tennants.

Mr Powell says having plants on balconies at the properties is against the tenancy agreement and alleges some damage had been caused by watering plants.

He said: “They don’t need run off. They are outside buildings, so the water just runs off.

“It makes sense to do the whole thing at once as it involves scaffolding. It’s being looked into in depth with scaffolding, carpentry and timber prices.

“Stapletons have been in touch with residents on a regular basis. Whilst the scaffolding is up it makes sense to paint the whole block which will also have to be addressed with the lessees.

“We will put all these prices to the lessees then it’s up to them which way they want to go. I think we are close to doing that. We are about two weeks away but it’s with the architects at the moment.

“All these costs to all of us seem grossly unfair when all the work was done with the best will in the world 15 years ago and certified by every authority and they walk away scott free and we and the lessees are left to pay for it.”

Make up of esponsibilities within lease "are complicated"

Managing agent Scott and Stapleton have issued a statement regarding the work needed on Plaza Royal Mews.

A spokesman said: "We manage a block of flats where an issue has been identified concerning the balcony of one of the flats. Our client has taken steps to comply with a Notice from the Local Authority under section 77 & 78 of the Building act 1984, to remove items from the balcony and to ensure that no one enters onto it.

"A scaffold has been erected to support the structure and to protect persons underneath whist a solution to repair the balcony is devised.

"It is unfortunate that the make-up of responsibilities within the lease are complicated. Part of the balcony is demised to the leaseholder who has a repairing obligation and responsibility to repair the other part belongs to the Freeholder.

"We are working through the legislative framework which will result in a consultation and is likely to be a lengthy process.

"We have had numerous conversations with the Leaseholders family regarding access restrictions to the balcony and also the need for ventilation in that room.

"It is noted that whilst the ability to open the doors to the balcony has been removed for safety reasons, ventilation is provided by two additional opening windows in the same room. With The leaseholders wellbeing in mind we are currently exploring options allowing the doors to the balcony to be opened whilst still restricting access to a potentially dangerous area.

"Through all conversations with the Leaseholders family, we have always advised them we would keep them updated when further meaningful information is available.

"We understand that lack of information can lead to frustrations from time to time, but this is a complex matter which will take time and we thank the Leaseholder and her family for their ongoing patience. "