Private flat owners begin cladding campaign
HOMEOWNERS IN high rises with combustible cladding have launched a national campaign to demand ‘urgent action to make their homes safe’.
The Guardian reported on the launch of the UK Cladding Action Group, which has been launched ‘amid growing anger that too little is being done to guarantee the safety of tens of thousands of people living in private flats’. The group was formed by leaseholders in London, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester, and the news outlet noted that the launch ‘reflects a sharp contrast in how private and social housing is being fixed’ in terms of cladding nationwide.
Last week, it was surmised that the current rate of removal and replacement for the remaining 354 high rises – private and social housing – could take five years, and while only 41 of 158 social housing blocks have had cladding replaced, owners of the 173 private towers have been ‘far slower to act and have largely ignored’ government threats of intervention unless the owners pay for the work. Another reveal was that 69 private blocks have no plans for removal and replacement in place.
Only 10 of the 173 private buildings with combustible cladding identified have been fixed, while the leaseholder and developer disputes over payment have continued, and the campaign outlined that 79% of works on social housing blocks have begun or been fixed compared to 11% of private towers – the freeholds for which are ‘often held by investors and offshore companies’.
With most leases holding the leaseholders and not freeholders legally responsible for works, the high bills mean ‘few have the money to pay for works’, leaving buildings ‘at risk’, with Tower Hamlets the first council to issue enforcement notices to a building freeholder and management company, ordering them to fix cladding. Despite this, leaseholders have already been told these costs of £5m, or £57,000 per apartment, will be passed onto them ‘within months’.
The government has at this point refused to publish a list of affected private buildings ‘citing arson fears’, but the campaign wants other leaseholders to get in touch, and will call for new legislation to ‘stop costs being passed on to leaseholders and to make public money available when freeholders won’t pay’.
Ritu Saha, a resident in Northpoint in Bromley – which was brought up in parliament – stated: ‘There doesn’t appear to be any end in sight for us. Our only hope is to get together and coordinate our efforts, so that the government and local authorities cannot ignore us any longer. The reality is, the government needs to make funding available to public authorities.’
She received a letter from Communities Secretary James Brokenshire last month in which he stated that it was his ‘strong expectation’ that leaseholders should not have to pay costs, adding that he had written to the freeholder and developer to #make clear they should fund the work’. Despite this, nine days later the freeholder’s agents wrote to leaseholders and told them it was ‘down to them to remove and replace’ the combustible cladding.
Mr Brokenshire has said that the government will fund councils’ removal of cladding, and then recover the costs from building owners, with a joint inspection team to explore how it can support councils. However, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government admitted it was ‘still recruiting’ environmental health officers to the team, and would not comment on how many councils had been advised or how many buildings had been inspected.