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'It Will Never End': Protest at Park Hill exhibition launch

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05/12/2018: Since this piece was published, residents of Saxton Parade have been informed by their management company that costs to fix substandard cladding will not be passed onto leaseholders.

The opening of an exhibition celebrating the history of property developer Urban Splash was marked by protests from residents of the company's Saxton development in Leeds, who are concerned that substantial costs required to fix cladding that has been assessed as substandard following the Grenfell Tower fire will be passed on to residents.

The provocatively-titled 'It Will Never Work' exhibition launched on Wednesday 21 November at the former Scottish Queen pub in the centre of Park Hill, one of the Manchester-based company's biggest and most controversial projects.

Founders Tom Bloxham and Jonathan Falkingham spoke about the 25-year history of the company, known for refurbishing neglected inner-city buildings, before questions were opened to the floor.

"I rent in one of the award-winning buildings developed by Urban Splash at Saxton Parade," said resident Amanda Cullen. "We've been told that we may be liable to pay to fix the cladding issue. Why hasn't Urban Splash stepped up and offered to pay for the mistakes that they've made? Why was it built this way?"

We're stuck in a building that is not safe

Bloxham described it as a "very good question and a very honest question" and promised to speak to residents about the issue in private.

Another resident, Sue Bowden, later held up banners reading 'Safety Before Profit' and 'Flammable Cladding at Saxton Parade', as bottles of Urban Splash pale ale with the label 'Grafters & Crafters' were handed out to visitors.

The BBC has seen an assessment report which found that "the structural insulated panels and high-pressure laminate cladding [at Saxton Parade] are all combustible". Residents are now demanding that Urban Splash pay for the repairs.

"RMG, our management group, have said that they're going to undertake a process, but if nobody else pays they're going to charge us through our service charge," Amanda Cullen told Now Then the day after the event.

"The problem at the moment is that no-one here can sell their flat because no-one can get a mortgage for this building. Everyone here is forced to stay until this is fixed and it's not going to be fixed for at least two years. We're stuck in a building that is not safe," Cullen told me.

A spokesperson for Urban Splash, which sold the building in 2013, said that the company has remained "actively involved" in providing support to the freeholder and building manager as they carry out necessary reviews post-Grenfell.

"Our priority and the priorities of all involved, is to ensure that the building is safe," the company told Now Then. "RMG has already actioned this, working with consultants and the fire authority, as well as providing clarity with regards to any future works. We understand from RMG that no bills for this have been issued to leaseholders.

"We are a responsible developer and will continue to support all parties during this process," the spokesperson said.

The irony of the exhibition's title was not lost on the Park Hill residents invited to the opening. Since the first renovated flats at the Grade II* listed building opened in 2011, progress has frequently ground to a halt due to issues with funding.

In the last few weeks work has begun on phase two of the Park Hill project, which will see the addition of 199 new homes targeted at families and young professionals. Unlike phase one, in which 40% of the flats were designated as affordable housing, phase two contains no provision for affordable or social housing.

Company director Mark Latham explained to Dezeen in 2017 that this was because the affordable housing requirement had already been met in phase one, with the second phase lowering the overall provision to 30%. Sheffield's Core Strategy states that "between 30% and 40% of all new homes should be affordable".

It Will Never Work runs until Saturday 1 December at the Scottish Queen, Park Hill.

Sam Gregory

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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