This week I had an article published in The Times on the cladding crisis and how the government now has an opportunity to fix it. Many residents in Southampton have been caught up in this crisis through no fault of their own.
You can see the full article which I wrote in support of leaseholders below:
Cladding crisis is a living nightmare for thousands of people
More than three and a half years on from Grenfell, the fallout of the cladding crisis is still being felt by hundreds of thousands of leaseholders today.
Since Grenfell the cladding crisis has only increased in magnitude. It has grown from the slow uncovering of a building safety crisis into a severe moral, economic and political dilemma that has blighted the lives of too many for too long. The solutions are not easy, nor cheap, however the government now has a clear opportunity to resolve this issue once and for all.
Buyers in the market for a new home could be forgiven for thinking that modern flats built in Britain today would be safe. People were not negligent when they purchased a flat, lenders and buyers conducted surveys and solicitors carried out thorough checks. Yet the collective failure of the construction industry, left unchecked by regulators, means that today we have thousands of buildings which have costly fire safety defects and are unsafe.
First, the moral question. The people who bought these properties did so in good faith. Often, they were incentivised by the government and encouraged to join the dream of home ownership. Many flats were purchased using Help to Buy and shared ownership schemes offering first-time buyers the opportunity to take their first step onto the property ladder. Some leaseholders had hardly moved in before they discovered that the building they lived in was unsafe and received bills (often running into tens of thousands of pounds) for rectification works.
Second, the economic question. Building owners, construction firms and insurers have washed their hands of responsibility, lumbering leaseholders with often crippling debt. This has left leaseholders fearing not only for their safety, but also their finances. Their flats have been given a zero value by lenders, leaving leaseholders trapped by bills they can’t afford in flats they can’t sell. The government is committed to building more homes so that people can have a decent place to live. However, with hundreds of thousands abandoned in properties they can’t sell the housing market is heading for disaster and the government’s reputation with it.
With such moral and economic problems, it is little surprise that the cladding crisis is a growing political crisis for the government. The Building Safety Fund was a step in the right direction, however, it simply does not contain sufficient funding to resolve this issue once and for all. The problem is bigger than originally thought, with defects affecting buildings of all sizes. This crisis risks alienating millions of voters who have been suffering for daring to join the dream of being a property owner that the Conservative Party has long encouraged.
The opportunistic Opposition Day Debate this week, where Labour finally jumped on the bandwagon, showed there is a clear consensus from MPs of all colours that leaseholders must not pay a penny and action to fix buildings must be taken now. My joint amendment to the Fire Safety Bill with Stephen McPartland will prohibit remediation costs being passed onto leaseholders.
The cost of this will be eye-watering. But it mustn’t fall on innocent leaseholders and it doesn’t need to fall on the taxpayer. A levy on future development is one possible solution but there are others. It is for government to decide how.
Too many MPs think this crisis is merely about high-rise blocks with defective cladding and those issues are being addressed. They are wrong. This crisis includes any development containing residential flats, including conversions from office blocks and low-rise blocks with wooden balconies and flammable insulation. Leaseholders are becoming increasingly impatient and will never forgive the government if a resolution is not found and found quickly. I for one, agree with them.