A packed meeting of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership / APPG on January 9 heard calls for urgent action on the cladding scandal that has rendered thousands of leasehold homes worthless.
It was standing room only in the Thatcher Room of Portcullis House – the MPs offices – as Hilary Benn, Labour MP for Leeds Central, called for government to intervene to help leaseholders whose lives are on hold as a result of the cladding scandal.
This was echoed by LKP patron Sir Peter Bottomley and other MPs present, including leaseholder Meg Hillier, Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch.
The APPG heard a depressing assessment from engineer Dr Jonathan Evans, of consultancy and cladding manufacturer Ash and Lacey.
One of the experts called in after the Grenfell tragedy, he explained how the government had misunderstood the evidence on cladding right from the start of its inquiries in the crisis.
It is this that has caused a rippling effect in subsequent decisions, leading to Advice Note 14 which reduced to zero valuations on thousands of flat.
Dr Evans said he urged the testing of other forms of cladding than simply Grenfell’s aluminium composite material.
But as a result he was thrown off the technical panel.
“The whole approach of MHCLG has been to absolve itself from either criminal or financial liability in this crisis,” Dr Evans told the meeting.
Professor Susan Bright, of Oxford University, said:
“There has been an inadequate and weak response from the government today leaving many existing buildings unsafe.
“And I have argued elsewhere that this constitutes a breach in the government’s duty to protect life under article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
The message from the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership was that officials and ministers need to meet leaseholders, and stop simply relying on meetings behind closed doors with the lobbying interests in the sector.
The only three meetings held in Westminster for cladding – including last week’s – have been organised by the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership.
The Greater London Assembly is being more effective, offering a meeting room at London City Hall for cladding leaseholders: the first meeting is scheduled for February 6 at 6:30pm.
LKP warned government and was ignored
Martin Boyd, LKP chair, chaired the event, welcoming leaseholders from Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester, as well as closer to Westminster.
I remind everyone it is now 939 days days since the Grenfell tragedy.
There has been some progress in sorting out the cladding that contributed to that disaster: a third of social housing sites have had the combustible cladding removed and the rest of still in progress.
But the position is much bleaker in the private sector.
Government figures show less than 10% of private cladding sites have been remediated. About 15% have had work started, but that leaves about 75% where nothing has happened.
For leaseholders, that means the anxiety of living in a high-rise with cladding; of not being able to sell their home or not being able to borrow the money to pay for the cladding remediation; of not being able to move job; or, in some cases, not even able to move on with their lives, perhaps when a relationship has broken down.
Three Secretary of States and numerous Housing Ministers have spent all this time saying that the “building owner” – the owners of the freehold, or the income streams of blocks of flats – must pay to remediate these buildings and the leaseholder should not.
The Leasehold Knowledge Partnership warned the government in November 2017 that most so called “building owners” would not pay up.
We warned that most leases would make the leaseholder pay and that if matters went to court the leaseholders would lose.
We urged government to help the leaseholders organise themselves and to communicate among themselves. This would help them face the stress of this disaster and to help them represent their interests.
Instead, it has been left to the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership to organise these meetings – this is the third – and to self-help groups of leaseholders to organise themselves.
What help the government has provided – which applies only to the Grenfell cladding sites – comes with conditions.
Foremost of those is that in taking the remediation money leaseholders are effectively being asked to accept that they are liable to pay for any costs which the government itself does not pay.
So in exchange for the promise of a grant, they must accept the liability for the cladding.
The majority here tonight do not live in Grenfell ACM sites, and unless the government changes its mind it has made clear that it will not pay.
It does not have clear plans for the remediation of non ACM sites. It does not actually know how many sites there are. The government has absolved itself from the fact that advice from the Department has inadvertently destroyed the value of your homes.
The government has gone back to its mantra that the building owner should pay, but they very clearly know that will not happen.
The surveyors, the lenders, the insurers and the managing agents have all had to work together to find a way to value hundreds of thousands of homes. But this now means that every site will need a new survey which needs to comply to a different set of rules that are set out in the government advice notes.
So my message today is as follows. The government has faced an awful problem perhaps because of faults in building regulations, perhaps because of faults in buildings inspection, perhaps because of the building design.
It is utterly ridiculous that we sell flats with 999 year leases but developers sell them with just a two year repairing obligation and an 8 year warranty that gives a limited set of cover.
This has to change.
If the brakes on your second-hand moped have a design defect even after 12 or 15 years, the manufacturer is expected to fix them at no cost. Why is this not the case with our homes?
In dealing with this the government has chosen to meet different groups in the sector behind closed doors to work out what to do.
But the one group it has chosen not to meet are the very leaseholders forced to live in and pay for a mess that they did not create.
We have a representative of the new Protection Board which has responsibility for oversight of building safety. We would urge the Board to either allow us as the APPG to hold cross-sector meetings to find ways to move forward or for the board to do so. Either way we must stop meetings behind closed doors, only with the commercial interests involved.
I can only give one positive announcement today. Following on from the success of the Manchester Cladiators we have finally managed to persuade the Greater London Authority to accommodate us so that cladding leaseholders can meet to help each other.
We will be holding these as joint events with the UK Cladding Group once every three months.
The first meeting will take place at City Hall on the 6th February at 6:30pm. The head of the remediation board has agreed to come along. Details will be available from ourselves and UKCAG in the next few days.