I am very pleased that the Opposition has secured a debate and a vote today on the cladding scandal. Unfortunately I was not called to speak, but I have been working very hard over the past year on behalf of thousands of Putney residents deeply affected by the cladding scandal. Across the country there are 770 buildings who pay for ‘waking watch’ staff to patrol the building at night in case of fire, and 554 of these are in London. In one Putney block this is costing £500 per month per flat.
In my constituency there are 20 blocks of flats – and counting – which are now affected by fire-related buildings issues.
These include: The Riverside Quarter, Hardwicks Square, the Swish Building, the Filaments Development, the Radial Development, Argento Tower, Point Pleasant, Scott Avenue, Gloucester House, Mill Court, Repton House, Gilbert House, Garratt Lane, Vantage Apartments, Carlton Drive, Archway Mews, Hannay House, Dorland Court and Queen Mary’s House.
If your block is facing fire safety issues and is not included in the above, please do get in touch.
Leaseholders have been threatened with bills for cladding remediation of over £20,000 per flat, their insurance bills are going up astronomically, several have to pay every month for a waking watch which they either don’t believe they need or don’t believe will actually wake them if needed, some have shared ownership and own 25% of their flat but are being threatened with 100% of the huge remediation bills.
The Grenfell Inquiry has shown the scale of the failure of regulation of building in this country. As it says in the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety Final Report:
“the current system of building regulations and fire safety is not fit for purpose and a culture change is required to support the delivery of buildings that are safe, both now and in the future.”
It is an utter tragedy that it took that dreadful fire and the deaths of so many to reveal the problems with building materials, but this has now been compounded by the on-going cladding scandal.
This is what some constituents have told me, and their words underlines the awful human cost of this crisis:
“Government action couldn’t come soon enough. The situation we are being subjected to is inconceivable to most. I can’t sleep at night with worry about my family and our future.”
“As every day, week, or month goes by, our financial liability and stability becomes ever more disturbing and deeply troubling…. when will this end?”
Another constituent, who bought her flat using money inherited from her mother’s passing, said: “Despite my emotional attachment to my flat, current circumstances make me almost wish I’d never bought it. It’s a burden and a hindrance to me moving forward with the next stage of my life, at a prime time when I want to start a family.”
Another resident is a victim of domestic violence and has been trying to sell her property to raise money for legal fees and has had to receive food parcels due to lost income during the Pandemic. Her insurance premiums have now increased by 500%.
This is getting worse. Mortgage lenders are being allowed to become more risk averse and require EWS1 certificates where they are not needed or they can’t be obtained because there are so few inspectors, or where remediation works costing thousands are required. Insurance companies are being allowed to get away with hiking up annual insurance to completely unaffordable levels. One block, for instance, has seen their annual insurance premiums increase from £40,000 to £240,000.
The number of buildings affected is also increasing as to begin with only buildings over 18m were considered a high risk, and now lower buildings are having adverse fire assessments. Also what began with concerns about cladding and is now about rendering, timber facades and compartmentalism between flats as well.
More and more people in more and more buildings are living in misery and worry and facing financial ruin.
Leaseholders must not pay for these failures by developers and failure of regulation by the government.
Action is needed now. After Ministers promised 15 times to protect leaseholders, Labour will today force a vote in Parliament to ensure costs are not passed on to residents and those responsible for the cladding scandal are pursued.
I will join with Labour MPs to call on the Government to:
- urgently establish the extent of dangerous cladding and prioritise buildings according to risk;
- provide upfront funding to ensure cladding remediation can start immediately;
- protect leaseholders and taxpayers from the cost by pursuing those responsible for the cladding crisis.
We need a new National Cladding Taskforce, which puts residents at its heart, to get a grip of this crisis. Modelled on the successful approach taken in Australia, the taskforce would be given strong powers to establish the full extent of dangerous materials on buildings, prioritise them according to risk and ensure there is enforcement against those who refuse to undertake works.
The Taskforce would drive forward Labour’s six demands for safer homes:
- Immediate up-front funding to remove deadly cladding and other urgent fire safety work
- Protect leaseholders and taxpayers, by pursuing those responsible for the cladding scandal for costs
- A new, legally enforceable 2022 deadline to make homes safe
- Legislation to protect residents from costs –
- Getting the market moving by ensuring affected residents can sell and re-mortgage
- Stamp out rogue builders by reforming the sector