All photos, with many thanks: Marcus Perkins marcusperkins.co.uk
The sun shone brightly yesterday as 3,000 leaseholders converged on Parliament Square for a rally in protest at leasehold rip-offs and the appalling unfairness of the building safety scandal.
The demonstration – organised by the cladding groups, the National Leasehold Campaign and the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership – was held the day after Robert Jenrick was sacked as communities secretary, in part owing to his handling of the building safety issue.
For many, the beautiful September weather seems to herald a new dawn. There certainly needs to be change. As the rally placards made clear, ordinary families face wipe-out bills for build defects they did not create.
The event saw huge support from politicians of all parties, headed by Father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley, who is also a patron of LKP and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on leasehold and commonhold reform.
During his Tory leadership bid, the new Housing Secretary struck a pro-development tone and while in opposition advocated for building on farmland and other green spaces, suggesting planning liberalisation could be on the cards despite the Government recently rowing back on its plans to reform the system.
THOUSANDS of people are being affected by the cladding scandal and are facing huge bills just to keep their homes safe. Pensioners, who have stopped working, also face these financial struggles as they may struggle to find the money to pay these fees.
Michael Gove has been told by Boris Johnson to find a new solution to the cladding scandal, which has left homeowners facing crippling bills to remove dangerous materials from their flats. The new cabinet minister in charge of housing and Johnson’s levelling-up agenda has been told to intervene to put a stop to the scandal.
Help to Buy was created in 2013 to help boost the numbers of homes being built in the UK. Under the scheme, buyers can purchase new-build homes costing up to £600,000 with a cash deposit of only 5 per cent.
The former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith launched a new wave of backbench pressure on the government to solve the building safety crisis, leading a rally of affected leaseholders into a chant outside parliament of: “Michael Gove, we want justice!”
Before the rally began, the leaseholders held a 72-second silence for the dead in the Grenfell tragedy.
Along with SIr Peter, others who spoke at the rally included London mayor Sadiq Khan, former Tory leader Ian Duncan Smith, Daisy Cooper – a co-chair of the APPG on leasehold – Mike Amesbury and Lucy Powell, of the shadow housing team – long-standing supporters of leaseholders Hilary Benn and Sarah Jones, the Rt Rev Alan Smith, Bishop of St Albans and the Tory maverick Stephen McPartland, whose amendment to the Building Safety Bill seeks to ensure that developers not consumers pay up for building defects.
On stage orchestrating the astonishingly professional event were NLC founder Katie Kendrick and Will Martin, of the UK Cladding Action Group, and Giles Grover, of Manchester Cladiators.
Both Martin Boyd and Sebastian O’Kelly of LKP also spoke.
The event was the single most powerful demonstration by leaseholders demanding change to have taken place in decades.
Justin Madders MP said the chants from the crowd were clearly audible in the chamber of the Commons.
Its most powerful message was: government has got cladding wrong and the Building Safety Bill needs drastic amendment or the proposed leasehold reforms will prove meaningless.
Both Sir Peter Bottomley and Lucy Powell, who appeared by video, called on new Communities Secretary Michael Gove to hold a summit of all the stakeholders in the building safety crisis and have a re-think.
Officials have been far too keen to cover up past errors of feeble regulation and an unhealthily close relationship with developers. They meet the commercial interests of the sector and have the occasional, tokenistic dialogue with the suffering flat buyers.
And why on earth are discredited former fire safety officials – who presided over the failed regulatory regime – still around (not least those with commercial interests in providing services such as waking watch, widely regarded as a scandalous cost in many cases).
The open question now is: what will the rally achieve?
Just before the demonstration took place, LKP organised an All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting that was addressed by housing minister Lord Stephen Greenhalgh.
Mood and tone are subjective judgement calls, but one was left with the impression that Greenhalgh is eager to liaise with leaseholder interests and reconsider the direction of the building safety measures.
Mr Gove would be wise to do so. Until this issue is cleared up the housing market is going continue to be skewed, with sales of flats, 100,000s now blighted, trailing behind those of new houses.
Until the building safety issue is dealt with effectively, there is also very little point in steaming ahead with the leasehold reforms.
Greenhalgh also threw out the thought that services presently provided by the Leasehold Advisory Service will be going out to tender – a strong indication that government is dissatisfied with this expensive quango which did nothing to alert government over the doubling ground rent scandal, and is largely irrelevant to leaseholders trapped in the building safety issue.
Campaigners are sustained by optimism, but the arrival of a new communities sectretary – and the repudiation of the previous one – are grounds for hope.
The brilliant demonstration yesterday will also have had a considerable effect on a change of direction by both ministers, and their officials.
LKP expresses its warmest thanks to all who attended, and above all the organisers of the rally who created something really exceptional.