MP criticises Treasury over cladding removal

MP criticises Treasury over cladding removal

BOB NEILL, MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, wrote to the treasury ‘criticising the pace’ of the government’s work to make buildings clad in combustible materials safe.

News Shopper reported on Mr Neill’s letter to Liz Truss, chief secretary to the Treasury, and Communities Secretary James Brokenshire, with the Conservative MP stating his ‘disappointment’ at the ‘complacency’ over the ‘pace of making dangerous buildings safe’. His letter followed a question asked in parliament, where he sought to find out ‘whether the government would provide funding to leaseholders to remove dangerous cladding’.

He had noted that there are ‘no legal means to enforce building owners to pay for the work’, and his letter stated: ‘You will not be surprised to read that I was disappointed by the answers. I believe they demonstrated a worrying complacency in the Treasury on this issue and failed to recognise the urgency of the situation facing residents of Northpoint block of flats in my constituency, not to mention the thousands of other leaseholders like them around the country.

‘As you will be aware the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced in November that it would empower local authorities to carry out emergency work to replace cladding and charge the owners, but to date no councils have felt able to intervene due to the financial risk involved.

‘It has become clear that the Government has no levers at its disposal to legally compel building owners to pay for the work. This is why I believe the onus now regrettably falls on central government to support this affected.’

In February, Mr Neill ‘pressured’ Prime Minister Theresa May in parliament over the Northpoint House block in Bromley, at which both the freeholder and developer have refused to fund the removal and replacement of cladding. In January it was reported that leaseholders in the building were ‘facing possible bankruptcy’ and are ‘falling ill with stress’ over the refusals, and are facing a £4m bill, with each leaseholder facing individual costs of £70,000.

One resident had been hospitalised with hypertension as a result, and tenants stated that they were ‘absolutely desperate’ regarding the financial and safety risks, with the two bedroom flats once worth £300,000 ‘but are now thought to be unmortgageable’. The building’s freehold is owned by Citistead, which refuses to pay as under the lease terms leaseholders are responsible for maintenance and repairs, with the cladding certified as compliant with building regulations that were ‘clearly not fit for purpose’.

The company, owned by property business developer Vincent Tchenquiz, stated through him that the costs ‘should be paid either by the government or residents because the rents freeholders earn do not cover the cost’. Developer Taylor Wimpey ‘does not want to pay either’, stating that it does not ‘own or bear any legal responsibility’ for the high rise, so removing cladding ‘is the job of the freeholder’.

Governmental confusion has not helped, with assertions ‘wrongly’ made in parliament that councils ‘were responsible for stripping dangerous cladding from private towers’, which is not allowed under the law. Residents are paying £5,000 per week for a compulsory, 24/7 waking watch, while the ‘clock is ticking’ for the building to be ‘brought up to scratch’ due to a London Fire Brigade enforcement notice, which has given the owners until April to fix ‘internal issues’ including fire doors and alarms.

Resident Graham Snewin commented: ‘Nothing is moving. It’s all well and good the treasury banging the same drum about expectations not to be passed on to lessees but our freeholder has said that it’s toothless. It’s very easy to say, but there are no powers to stop it. They have to put their hands in their pockets and sort this out otherwise it will just drag on for years and that is what all the signs are saying.

‘Finance and safety are two pretty major issues in peoples lives and it is dragging people down now. It’s pressing on people. You forget that this building is so unsafe, when I watch footage of Grenfell it’s very emotional. That is footage of people dying and that could be us. We are all living day to day trying to manage financially. If the costs get passed onto us then we are homeless and bankrupt. The council are doing the best they can, but this was dumped on them. Their hands are tied.’