Work to fix problems with unsafe cladding on a tower block in Stevenage has finally begun, four years after the issues were identified following the Grenfell Tower fire.

Vista Tower in St George's Way was converted from offices to flats in 2016, but the conversion breached fire regulations, an inspection found.

The remedial work will cost £15 million.

The government took legal action against the freeholder Grey GR Limited Partnership in 2022, after leaseholders were handed bills asking them to pay a service charge of up to £208,000.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said: "The residents of Vista Tower, just like everybody else, want a safe place to live. 

"They want their freeholder, Grey GR, owned by RailPen, to remedy fire safety defects in the building that Grey is responsible for fixing.

"It is our opinion, and the opinion of leaseholders, that Grey GR have been unnecessarily slow in getting on with this work.

"Following over two years of delays for more than 100 residents, we launched legal action against Grey and sought a Remediation Order for Vista Tower."

A Remediation Order, granted through the courts, legally binds the owner of a building to fix fire safety defects by a specified time, through new legal powers brought in by the Building Safety Act 2022.

DLUHC said: "Even with an order yet to be made, this intervention has already prompted action, with Grey now stating, finally, that it can complete work by September 2025 - 12 months earlier than originally suggested."

The Comet: Leaseholder Sophie Bichener is calling for Grey GR to remove invoices for more than £200,000 from leaseholders' accounts.Leaseholder Sophie Bichener is calling for Grey GR to remove invoices for more than £200,000 from leaseholders' accounts. (Image: Supplied)

The remedial work will include removing combustible insulation and replacing it with non-combustible materials, installing cavity barriers for fire protection, and installing effective 'fire stopping' around the vent ducts and openings.

However, leaseholder Sophie Bichener said: "The bottom line is that, today, Vista Tower remains wrapped in unsafe material. Despite this material being identified over four years ago, Grey GR have failed to remove it and make the building safe, in full knowledge of the tragic events at Grenfell Tower.  

"Residents have been pleading for four years to make Vista Tower safe. We have had to campaign constantly, including in the Comet and national press, to get to this point and for Grey GR to listen to us.

"The government was forced to launch legal action, and it has taken this legal action for residents to see any progress.

"In the meantime, we still have extortionate invoices in each resident's service charge account of over £200,000. This threat has been hanging over our heads for years, and continues to do so as this work starts.

"We urge them to remove these charges from our accounts and clarify that they will be funding the remediation of Vista Tower."

Grey GR says it is "committed" to the remediation of Vista Tower, and has made "significant progress" over the past 12 months in improving the building's safety.

A spokesperson for the freeholder said: "We completed internal works throughout the building during 2023, and extensive remedial work will begin to the external façade in the next few weeks. A lead contractor has been appointed and site set-up commenced [earlier this month], with a provisional completion date of autumn 2025.

"We understand the works will cause disruption to residents and we thank them for their continued patience while we improve the safety of the building as quickly and safely as possible.

"We have been communicating regularly with leaseholders, including hosting a leaseholder meeting in December, and we will continue to do so throughout the project."

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DLUHC concluded: "It has taken legal action from the department and the expense of leaseholders, who have been waiting for four years for their building to be made safe, for Grey GR to make this progress on the remediation of Vista Tower. 

"Grey GR must now fulfil their obligation to make the buildings they own safe without further delay, providing certainty to leaseholders as to when the works will be completed."

Legal action relating to five more buildings owned by Grey GR has been launched by the government.