Grenfell Tower and London landmarks illuminated on anniversary
The cladding scandal revealed after the Grenfell Tower inferno in June 2017 remains far from over.
Hundreds of thousands of flat owners are still trapped in a safety crisis which means they cannot sell or rent their apartments.
This is despite £5billion from the Government to strip off lethal cladding of the type blamed for the blaze that left 72 dead at the 24-storey London tower block.
Now a new survey seen exclusively by the Daily Express lays bare the extent of the misery still suffered.
Just over one in five (21.4 percent) of owners in blocks classified as dangerous have seen remediation work start.
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The Grenfell Memorial Wall in the grounds of Kensington Aldridge Academy, London
For 54 percent, a date has not even been identified. Most have no timescale for when works will complete and only around 10 percent expect them to do so within the next 12 months.
As many as 79 percent cannot remortgage despite banks stating their willingness.
And nine out of 10 cannot sell their flat, according to the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign group.
Yet Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, has introduced a plethora of policies which should rescue residents from the nightmare.
Leaseholders now have legal protection, developers have agreed to pay up and lenders have agreed to offer mortgages.
But critics say the rescue scheme is too complicated and slow, and developers are not being forced to act by the Government.
“Even though it sounds like loads is being done, for the majority of people on the ground, things haven’t changed at all,” said Giles Grover, a leaseholder in a building with fire safety issues and a member of the campaign.
“And we just don’t know when all buildings will be made safe.”
The Government estimates that between 6,220 and 8,890 medium-rise buildings between 11 metres (36ft) and 18m (60ft) will need “life-critical” safety work, on top of more than 3,500 high rises.
In March, developers agreed to cover the cost of the cladding removal and any further life-critical works on blocks they had built.
Forty-six of the UK’s largest developers signed a contract to do so but this covers only around 1,100 blocks.
Owners expected Government funding streams to provide the answer. But the timelines are long and one medium-rise scheme is still not even open for bids.
The funding only covers cladding removal with the cost of other works reaching more than £100,000
The 24 story Grenfell Tower on fire in 2017
When there is no developer to pay, the scheme charges the building owner – including linked companies – if the owner is worth more than £2million.
However, getting this money is not straightforward involving the use of the Building Safety Act.
This is a lengthy and complicated process and initial hearings for blocks in London’s Olympic Park were adjourned in February and are unlikely to conclude this year.
If developers or building owners do not have the money to pay their share of the costs, the individual leaseholders are stung.
Flat owners are required to pay a capped sum based on a property’s price and location. A London flat worth £400,000 would have a cap of £15,000, for example.
Officials have said only a “vanishingly small” number of leaseholders will pay these sums. But the campaign’s survey of 774 owners show many have already spent thousands on safety issues.
More than a third (36 percent) have spent up to £2,500, 22 percent have spent up to £5,000 and 13 percent have had to find up to £7,500.
Three percent have paid out between £15,000 and £25,000 while one percent have spent more than £50,000.
The position is even worse for those in blocks smaller than 11m where no protections exist at all and all leaseholders face uncapped bills.
While ministers say these buildings should not need work, the official advice does not make this clear and many owners are being hit with huge bills.
Any work will then take many years to complete as the supply chain of contractors, surveyors and scaffolders grinds through thousands of buildings. Three years on from funding being made available for blocks with non-aluminium composite material cladding, only 11 eligible have been signed off as complete.
Meanwhile, most owners are still unable to sell and move on with their lives.
Despite six high-street lenders now offering mortgages on flats with issues so long as leaseholder protections were in place, this is not happening on the ground.
Critics say the rescue scheme is too complicated and slow
Mr Grover said: “Comfort letters from a housing association or from a developer assuring the works will be funded might go some way.
“But they’re not proving to be enough for the lenders yet.
“Valuations guidance has to account for living on a building site or for non-cladding costs, and will buyers want a flat with fire-safety issues?
“Non-qualifying leaseholders are still facing ruin. I see on social media every day, people saying ‘I can’t sell’.
“People are just going to auctions and selling their flats at a massive discount, but not everyone can afford to take that hit.”
Insurance premiums have soared in buildings with identified issues and have continued to rise, despite Government assurances that it would get a grip on the issue. We will be stuck in this for another five years, minimum, probably closer to 10 years.
“We said from day one that the Government should be putting up the money and then collecting it back from the parties that are responsible.
“They’ve done that for cladding, but buildings will still be made only half-safe and freeholders will whack non-qualifying leaseholders with enormous costs they won’t be able to pay. So we still think that up-front funding is the only real way forward.”
Mr Gove has just warned shareholders in the three Grenfell cladding companies Kingspan, Arconic, and Saint-Gobain that the firms will face “severe consequences” if no financial support package is forthcoming.
He said: “I have always been clear that those responsible for the building safety crisis must pay.
“It cannot be right that cladding companies continue to profit whilst so many innocent, hardworking people face financial hardship and misery. To those cladding companies who fail to do the right thing: You will face severe consequences and I will use all commercial and legal tools available to me to ensure you take responsibility.”
The Department of Levelling Up said: “We have been clear that those responsible must pay to end the crisis.
“All developers who have signed the developer remediation contract now have a legal duty to get on with remediation.
“We are monitoring their progress very closely to ensure this work is completed urgently and safely, and, if it is not, we will act accordingly.”
Grenfell Tower Memorial
We may have come a long way from the days of Ministers simply hoping that building owners and developers would “do the right thing” but we are far from the end of this scandal which has blighted the lives of thousands of people across the country.
Nearly a year since Michael Gove’s leaseholder protections came into force, little has changed on the ground.
Thousands of buildings of all heights with a range of external and internal defects remain unsafe. The first rung of the housing ladder is still broken.
Nearly six years after the catastrophic events at Grenfell Tower, the vast majority of us are unable to move on with our lives.
Our main ask has always been for legislation that protects us all.
Yet the Government’s “waterfall” approach to building safety is fiendishly complex with only some developers forced to make their buildings safe.
Developers who put profits before people are now tasked with fixing our homes with little effective oversight.
Building owners plead poverty and exploit loopholes in rushed-through legislation.
The Government may hope that the question of how buildings will be fixed has been solved but funds are still not in place to make buildings safe at the pace we need and deserve. There are too many safety defects left unfunded with leaseholders on the hook for those costs.
We have repeatedly called on the Government to provide funding up front and recover costs through taxation and levies.
This may now be happening, albeit belatedly, for cladding remediation, but buildings cannot be made half-safe.
Ministers seem to have refused to learn from the failure of previous funding schemes to get money out the door at pace.
As the sixth anniversary of Grenfell approaches and the prospect of a general election shortly thereafter, Mr Gove, Chancellor Hunt and Prime Minister Sunak know more needs to be done. Should they continue to ignore warnings, their failure to act will be their legacy at the polls.
Post source: Express