The council has bought an apartment block in London and faces a £19million fire safety bill

Two former elected mayors from Mansfield Borough Council defended the original decision to buy a London apartment block which was later found to have serious fire safety issues.

The authority now faces a bill of around £19m to fix the issue, despite only spending £5.95m on the property when buying the investment in January 2017.

The building, at 50-52 Bedford Road in Clapham, was formally purchased under the administration of the Mansfield Independent Forum, led by former mayor-elect Kate Allsop, who was in charge of the council between 2015 and 2019.

However, the initial decisions to buy the property and to allocate the funds were both taken in the 2014/15 financial year, when the authority was under the control of its predecessor, Tony Egginton.

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The purchase was one of many out-of-town investments made by the political group under both mayoral terms as a way to be “creative” in finding extra money to support services.

Now Ms Allsop and Mr Egginton have spoken out and defended the Mansfield Independent Forum’s decision to invest in the building and other out-of-town locations.

Commenting on the issue for the first time since it was made public, both insisted the purchase was one of many ways the council was finding additional revenue to shore up budgets.

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Ms Allsop says that although the decision to buy the Clapham property was not made by herself, professional advice has been provided to council officers when making investments of this nature.

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She said: “I knew there were problems [with the building] when I was still mayor but since then I have not been informed.

“Council took advice and there were a lot of professionals involved in this building, and all the regulations should have been followed at the time.

“There is always a risk in everything you do and now the council has a duty of care because these are people’s homes.

“It’s vital the board gets it right and I’m sure they will work hard to make sure that’s the case.”

Regarding the investment strategy itself, she added: “Investing outside the district brings a large amount of revenue into the district and means that the people of London pay for the services that the people of Mansfield receive.

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“The money the council gets from the government is tiny, so if you want the services you need, you have to be creative. That’s what we were.

“It was a way to raise funds in times of austerity. Ninety-nine percent of each purchase went very well and brought money flooded into the district to be spent in the district.

A 2018 document reveals the council receives annual rental income from the Clapham property totaling over £300,000, while several flats have been sold.

Other buildings purchased during this period included the Travelodge hotels in Edinburgh and Doncaster, a PureGym leisure center in Manchester and a Volkswagen car garage in Glasgow.

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However, following the 2017 purchase of the Clapham building – which includes commercial space on the ground floor and 40 apartments above – an independent 2018 assessment found it had serious fire safety issues .

Ms Allsop says the council ‘took advice’ from professionals when buying the building and felt that all regulations had been followed when it was constructed.

And Lambeth Council, the authority which approved planning permission for the building, has confirmed that regulations on high-rise buildings have changed following the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017.

The Labour-led London authority says that before the disaster fire safety was not a material planning requirement – meaning it did not need to impose any specific development conditions to secure itself. ensure that it meets fire safety standards.

The council added that when reviewing the planning application, it was assessed against the relevant regulations and standards in place before the disaster.

After problems inside the building were revealed, London Fire Brigade then issued the building a fire safety deficiencies notice after finding a ‘number of’ problems inside.

And, although neither Mansfield District Council nor the fire department has revealed exactly what problems have been uncovered, apartment residents say they are linked to ‘inside the walls’ issues that would make it more difficult controlling a fire.

The council insisted it had taken steps to ensure the building currently remains safe to occupy.

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Ms Allsop’s predecessor, Mr Egginton – who became the first executive mayor in 2002 before stepping down from office in the spring of 2015 – said the purchase came late in his term and he “does not didn’t remember” the details of the investment.

The initial decision to allocate the money was made in October 2014, six months before he retired, although he says similar investments made under his leadership have helped bring “a secure income to authority”.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: ‘It would have been at the end of my watch but, with the investments at the time, we were looking to bring additional revenue into the coffers.

“We looked at investments and looked outside the district for secure income for the authority but, with this particular one, I can’t remember.”

Work to address fire safety issues will involve the ripping out of all floors, walls and ceilings so that the building can be rebuilt inside.

Residents living inside say they are being asked to leave their homes for up to a year while work takes place and some have said their lives have been left ‘in limbo’ by repeated delays.

They say work was originally due to start last year before being rearranged twice – first until August 2022 before recently being postponed again until May next year.

Residents of the 40 flats will be asked to remove all personal belongings from the building during the relocation period and the council has pledged to fund all costs incurred by each household.

And, although the authority has not confirmed the cost of the work, its capital program reveals that almost £19million will be needed spread over the next three years.

Mansfield District Council is now led by Mayor-elect Andy Abrahams.

A council spokesperson said: ‘Having a balanced investment portfolio has and continues to give the authority income stability and allows the council to invest in services when external funding flows decrease.

“Following an independent assessment of the building in 2018, the council took immediate action to address several fire safety issues and keep tenants and residents safe in their homes.

“Council have worked in co-operation with the London Fire Department and with the tenants to ensure that additional temporary fire protection measures are in place so that the property can be safely occupied until the works are completed. repairs are completed.

“The council, as owner and responsible landlord, have undertaken a thorough investigation into the fire safety issues at the property and have determined a program of work needed to remedy the issues.

“In the meantime, the council is satisfied that it has taken all necessary measures to ensure the immediate safety of its tenants and that the building can be safely occupied.

“There are three phases of work in the building, with tenants being temporarily relocated while this phased work is delivered. We expect work to begin in 2023.

“The work requested is substantial but necessary for the long-term safety of the building.

“The council has kept the London Fire Brigade informed of the situation and we continue to cooperate with them in all respects.

“Rest assured, as a responsible owner, we have always put safety first and will continue to do so until the repair work on the property is complete.”

Jennifer C. Burleigh