Southwark leaseholders will no longer have to pay ruinous post-Grenfell cladding removal bills, but many are skeptical whether government proposals go far enough, writes Herbie Russell…
Housing Secretary Michael Gove, yesterday announced that housing developers would have to foot the £4 billion bill, or else face legal action or a new tax.
Addressing the Commons, he said: “No leaseholder living in a building above eleven metres will ever have to face any costs for fixing dangerous cladding.”
According to data compiled by the Labour Party in February last year an estimated 16,982 people in Southwark still had dangerous cladding on their building.
The government had already committed £5 billion to nationwide fire safety improvements after the Grenfell fire killed 72 people in 2017.
But buildings under eighteen metres tall were excluded from government help, leading developers to hit leaseholders with excessive costs.
However, as well as unsafe cladding, high-rises are plagued by issues like defective fire doors, internal compartmentation, wooden balconies and other construction defects.
There is no indication whether the government will assist leaseholders being charged for repairs on these other safety defects.
In October, the News spoke to Emma McGovern, a primary school teacher and mother-of-four, living at Oyster Court, Walworth, who feared losing her home.
Living in a building under eighteen meters tall, she was struck by what she described as “a comedy bill” of £85,000.
Asked about the government’s latest proposals, she said: “It’s definitely a step in the right direction but we don’t just have cladding issues.
“We have no fire breaks, the insulation and timber balconies are flammable and our doors don’t have proper sealant.
“Our bill was £85,000 and cladding accounts for roughly a third so there’s still a huge chunk we can’t afford to pay.”
She also highlighted that, given she lives in affordable housing, it is unlikely that any of her neighbours can afford it either.
Neil Coyle, MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark said: “This doesn’t cover all works, just cladding and not compartmentalisation works or waking watch costs.
“Developers have had four-and-a-half years to fund these works and failed.
The government has since announced that an additional £27 million will see fire alarms installed in all high-risk buildings with a waking watch.
In October the News report how Southwark was among the highest for waking watches with 71 blocks having round-the-clock fire safety patrols.
Victor Chamberlain, Lib Dem councillor for Borough and Bankside said: “I question whether it’s enough. The scale of this scandal is so vast.
“It’s not just about cladding it’s about the unsafe insulation in the walls.
“I’ve got leaseholders who are being kept awake at night because they’ve got these huge bills that they can’t afford. It’s inhumane.”
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “This is a result of determined campaigning by leaseholders and tenants.
“It shows that the government can be pressured into progress, and we commend the efforts of campaigners.
“However, this announcement does leave us with cause for concern. This change does not cover all fire safety failings.”
Accusing the Prime Minister of living in “Peppa Pig World”, on January 5, during Prime Minister Questions, Coyle urged Boris Johnson to make repair works exempt from VAT.
If that cross-party campaign is successful, it would add roughly £1 billion to the building safety fund.
Boris Johnson said in February 2020: “No leaseholder should have to pay for the unaffordable costs of fixing safety defects that they didn’t cause and are no fault of their own.”
In April 2021, Conservative MPs voted against an amendment to the fire safety bill that would have protected leaseholders from the crippling costs of the improvements.