Keylet investigates Cardiff Bay’s Cladding Crisis

Victoria Wharf, Cardiff Bay

Keylet investigates Cardiff Bay’s Cladding Crisis

Throughout the country over the last few years the cladding crisis has hit the headlines numerous times. Cardiff Bay remains one of the worst locations for issues with cladding, so we thought we’d investigate further and give you a breakdown of what it all means.

Celestia, Cardiff Bay
Celestia, Cardiff Bay

What is cladding?

Let’s go back to the basics and define what cladding means. Cladding is when various materials are arranged on top of one another, generating a layer. In construction terms, cladding is used to offer extra insulation for the walls of a building, which makes it weather resistant. Cladding could be used for the external or even internal layers of a house or apartment buildings. Usually, cladding consists of timber, tile or metal, but other materials can also be used.

Is cladding dangerous?

The simple answer is no. Most forms of cladding act as extra protection and helps to prevent fires from spreading too quickly, as well as adding an extra barrier for harsh weather conditions. With that being said, there are some forms of cladding that are incredibly flammable and therefore dangerous, and these types do pose a serious risk to residents. There are three main types of harmful cladding: Aluminium Composite Material (ACM), High Pressure Laminate (HPL) and Metal Composite Material (MCM).

Aluminium Composite Material (ACM)

ACM is made up of two sheets of aluminium on either side of a core of another lightweight material (usually polyethylene or polyurethane). This type of cladding is predominantly used to protect buildings from rain and adverse weather conditions. It’s the lightweight core that makes this form of cladding unsafe due to its highly flammable materials. The core accelerates the spread of the fire and causes the large aluminium panels to melt and then fall off the building.

The tragedy of the Grenfell Tower in London in 2017 where 72 people sadly lost their lives was caused by this type of cladding, and has resulted in the need for urgent investigation into the matter.

High Pressure Laminate (HPL)

Bonded together with heat and pressure, HPL is made by layering sheets of paper or wood fibre with resin. HPL is very similar to ACM in its ability to rapidly increase the speed in which a fire can rip through a building. There is also reason to believe that due to the higher fuel content, a HPL fire could potentially be more difficult to fight than an ACM fire due to the greater heat release rate.

A devastating fire at ‘The Cube’ – a student accommodation block cladded with HPL, in Bolton was seriously damaged in 2019.  Thankfully no one was seriously hurt despite 200 people being inside the building at the time.

Metal Composite Material (MCM)

Again, similar to ACM, Metal Composite Material is made in a very similar way, but uses different types of metal such as zinc, stainless steel or copper. It is popular due to its weather resistance, acoustic and thermal insulation and is lightweight and requires little maintenance. However, due to the fact that the filler or core material of MCM panels varies between products and can include combustible materials, these too can have different melting points and affect the fire performance of the building.

Victoria Wharf, Cardiff Bay
Victoria Wharf, Cardiff Bay

What does this mean to residents living in Cardiff Bay?

Following the Grenfell Tower crisis in 2017, it was discovered that many other apartment blocks across the UK used the same flammable external cladding (ACM) and that an examination into the external walls was needed to ensure they are deemed safe to live in.

These fire safety checks must be conducted by a specialist surveyor and the process can be quite complicated. The surveyor will need to examine both the exterior walls of the property along with how the cladding layers are attached to the framework of the building. The difficulty lies with the fact many affected blocks don’t have detailed records of what material was used during construction, so a sample needs to be taken and tested before approval from the surveyor.

Mortgage lenders and insurance providers will automatically assume that the property is ‘unsafe’ or a fire risk (weather true or not) until a surveyor has tested and approved its safety. In certain cases, non-tested blocks of flats have been valued at £0.00 until proven safe. This poses a huge problem for buyers who need a mortgage in order to purchase their flat. Equally, for sellers, this means they can only either advertise to cash buyers, or wait until an EWS1 certificate is produced to target first time buyers needing a mortgage..

Properties in Victoria Wharf, Prospect Place, Quayside and Celestia are among the extensive list of buildings that suffer from ACM cladding issues, while properties at Schooner Wharf have also been deemed unsafe due to its HPL cladding. Despite these developments having sprinklers, fire-safe stairways, fire lifts and fire alarms, they are still unsellable or unable to re-mortgage without an EWS1 certificate.

What is an EWS and EWS1?

The abbreviation ‘EWS’ stands for External Wall System. This includes materials that make the outside wall of a building, the cladding, fire break systems and the insulation.

The EWS1 certificate is what gets produced after a specialist survey is completed by an expert surveyor on apartment buildings. This survey needs to be carried out to confirm whether the cladding on the building itself is safe or not. If the surveyor finds the external walls to be dangerous, they will provide a list of recommended works to the management companies who are responsible for getting it rectified.

Following a surveyor’s recommendations, the leaseholders will need to contribute towards getting the remedial works complete in order for them to be safe where they live.

Once an EWS1 certificate has been approved and released, it will be valid for the whole building for 5 years. This also means that once the certificate has been made, it will be available to any flat owner within the block/development to prove that the property is safe, of which they can pass onto mortgage lenders, insurance companies and potential buyers.

IMPORTANT: It has come to light over the last few years that fraudulent EWS1 certificates have been produced in order to ‘trick’ mortgage and insurance companies as well as potential buyers. Due to the complexity of these types of investigations into cladding, these forms and certificates can only be produced by a specially qualified chartered surveyor. The RICS website provides a list of such surveyors which you can find here.

Schooner Wharf, Cardiff Bay
Schooner Wharf, Cardiff Bay

Is an EWS1 certificate needed for my property?

Should the apartment be situated within a building that is taller than 18 metres, or over six storeys, and has cladding, then there is a high likelihood it would require an EWS1 certificate before being able to sell or re-mortgage.

Other smaller buildings under 18 metres could also require the EWS1 certificate but only if they are considered to be ‘of concern’.

As mentioned previously, it is the building owner’s responsibility to arrange the EWS1 process – not the leaseholders. With that being said, as the leaseholder, there is nothing stopping you from pushing to get the process started. A good way to go about this is getting other residents involved and contacting (in writing) the management company/freeholder. You should ask them for confirmation of what materials were used on your building and when it was established that the cladding used was unsafe. It is well within your rights to be made aware of this information, any updates, and how this may impact you as the leaseholder. If the management company/freeholder are unable to provide you with these answers, you should then insist that a qualified chartered surveyor is brought in to test the building for unsafe or combustible cladding.

There is a legal obligation for this process to be carried out. If your management company/freeholder is resistant in doing so, you should contact your local council and fire and rescue service. It is important to get the ball rolling on this matter, as due to the incredibly specialised surveyor needed, there is already a significant waiting list.

My flat has cladding issues – what can I do?

If you are unfortunately an owner of one of the many blocks of flats and developments across Cardiff Bay that have cladding issues or are awaiting an EWS1 certificate, you may find the property difficult to sell. At Key Executive Sales, we are all about honesty and transparency with our vendors and we would never promise something we would be unable to deliver.

Should you need to put your property on the market for whatever reason, we would only be able to market it to cash buyers. This is because cash buyers do not need an EWS1 certificate to proceed with the sale, unlike buyers who need a mortgage. Understandably, you may need to accept a lower than desirable offer from a cash buyer if you really need to sell. We have a client base full of investors who may wish to purchase your property.

If you do not need to sell quickly or don’t want to sell yet, renting could be the best option for you. Our sister branch, Keylet Executive offers a bespoke rental service with a wide range of options for landlords whether you are looking for a managed service or a let only service. Renting the property whilst you are in ‘limbo’ over the cladding issues or awaiting the EWS1 certificate means at least the property will be generating you an income and not sitting idle.

For help and advice with selling or letting, please contact our friendly team who will be able to assist you in which ever option you decide. You can contact us on the following:

02920 489 000 /

All information in this blog is relevant and true at the date of posting.

Published: April 14, 2021