Andrew Steed Accuses Government of 'Betrayal' over Cladding Crisis

Southfield ward councillor says the proposed solution falls short

Cllr Andrew Steed
Cllr Andrew Steed

The Grenfell fire, where 72 people died, is nearly four years ago, and the implications for affected residents are still a long way from being resolved. Successive Conservative ministers have failed to fix the problem despite promising to do so. It will come as no great surprise that similar pledges by the Prime Minister have also failed to address the problem.

No one with any knowledge of the issues (and there are many) thinks the £3.5 billion is anything like enough to solve the problem, largely because the money is designed to only pay for work removing unsafe cladding for blocks of 18 metres and higher.

Liberal Democrats say this will not fund other aspects of fire safety work such as fire alarms, fire doors, cavity barriers, balconies, and intumescent paint. Add in the costs of 'waking watches' by guards and increased insurance premiums. The most glaring omission is the lack of funding for buildings under 18 metres: the work on buildings between four and six storeys will be funded through loans, but so far it is unclear if the freeholder or the leaseholder should apply. There is nothing in place for buildings below that height.

Liberal Democrats know that many people affected by the crisis have been unable to sell their flats because mortgage companies will not lend against them. Leaseholders are getting served Section 20 notices that their service charges are going to rocket, and some people will not be able to pay them. A survey of the mental health of affected residents in May 2020 found seven out of ten had trouble sleeping, which is understandable if you live in constant fear of fire and/or a repair bill in the region of £100,000.

The question of who is to blame will have to wait until the Grenfell Inquiry is completed, but you would start with a list including inadequate building regulations, overworked building control officials, cost cutting developers and suppliers of dangerous building materials.

Although the Tory government announced a new levy on developers to cover the cost of grants, which will be applied when they seek planning permission. A separate tax will be introduced from next year on money made in UK residential property development to raise £2 billion over a decade-though details need to be finalised.

Clearly there is a local interest with the recent granting of permission for the TfL development on Bollo Lane-one assumes as permission has been granted they will not have to pay the new levy, but they would pay eventually the development tax?

Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London Luisa Porritt, who visited Chiswick in October, said: “It’s staggering the Government still doesn’t grasp the scale and seriousness of the cladding crisis, years on from the Grenfell disaster. Today’s announcement is a betrayal of all those left unsupported by the Government’s narrow criteria. People living in unsafe buildings are being told that their buildings are not tall enough or don’t have the right kind of safety defects to receive support. This is simply not good enough. If a car manufacturer put a dodgy car onto the market, we would not expect the drivers to cover the costs of putting it right. The same must apply to people’s homes. Leaseholders must not pay for building safety defects that are not their fault.”

Southfield Liberal Democrat Councillor, Andrew Steed

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February 13, 2021