Exclusive: Cladding scandal – 89 blocks affected in Bermondsey and Old Southwark alone

Katherine Johnston (20 May, 2021)

MP Neil Coyle is campaigning for remedial works to be exempt from VAT

29544L&Q's Arch Street - residents had to move out in 2019 during remedial work after fire safety problems were identified with cladding.

There are now 89 blocks in Bermondsey and Old Southwark alone affected by cladding and fire safety issues.

Twenty-nine of those blocks are under eighteen storeys – making them ineligible for current government funding.

Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle shared the shocking figures at online meeting with affected last week.

Increasingly, he said, the fire safety problems being discovered are not just related to cladding but also poor quality building work that has compromised, or entirely lacks, compartmentalisation – a system that is meant to stop a fire from spreading.  And due to the shortage of homes and high housing costs in central London, boroughs like Southwark are particularly affected not only by the number of new builds with cladding in the first place, but also by the unique challenges presented to leaseholders or shared owners. The level of support offered by housing associations, and what they have been willing to pay for, varies.

Summing up the issue, Coyle told the News: “Leaseholders who only own 25 per cent of their home are now facing 100 per cent of the bill – some freeholders are acting in really poor faith.”

Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle

Coyle is also campaigning for a VAT exemption on government funding for cladding works, along with a cross-party selection of MPs including several Tory rebels aghast at the Conservative’s lack of support for homeowners. VAT on the costs is at 20 per cent – and will end up back with the treasury.

“The government shouldn’t be charging a ‘luxury tax’ for fire safety,” Coyle added.

He believes alongside more financial support the only long-term solution is a huge overhaul of building regulations that will give councils the power to properly investigate what is constructed in their boroughs – and the teeth to take action if they are found to be wanting.

In the meantime, he has warned that without the government backtracking and stumping up more cash and support, many more people could find themselves embodied in the scandal.

In April, a bid to protect leaseholders from shouldering massive fire safety costs failed to pass through parliament, with a majority of MPs voting against the protective measures despite several Conservatives defying the whip to join the cross party campaign.

Leaseholders now face up to ten billion in cladding removal and fire safety remediation bills – rather than developers and freeholders. The number of people finding themselves in financial dire straits is only going to rise, warns Coyle. “Most freeholders did their tallest buildings first, the ones below eighteen metres are being inspected much later and they may still be found to have problems, may not get funding, and in the meantime mortgage providers and insurers won’t touch them,” he warned. “It’s absolutely hideous.”

A reminder of what is at stake came earlier this month when a building New Providence Wharf in east London, wrapped in cladding and combustible balconies, caught fire.  Forty-two people were treated for smoke inhalation. Fortunately there were no fatalities.

It was a reminder of the tragedy that brought cladding to national attention, and uncovered the sheer number of death trap homes – Grenfell.  Today, four years after, according to an analysis by the Labour Party around 30,000 people in Southwark and Lambeth are living in homes with similar issues, with at least 209 high-rise buildings in both boroughs yet to have their dangerous cladding removed.

These numbers are believed to be conservative estimates, with the true number affected perhaps far higher.

READ MORE: 30,000 living in homes with unsafe cladding in Southwark and Lambeth

READ MORE: Families trapped by the cladding scandal say their Peckham homes ‘feel like a prison’

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