A new campaign group calling itself Manchester Cladiators is demanding the Government act to ensure highrise apartment buildings are made fire safe — without plunging residents into financial ruin.
After the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017, it was learned that over 400 highrise buildings across the country (not all of them residential) used the same or similar aluminium composite cladding (ACM) system, prompting widespread concern over the safety of the buildings.
While efforts to remove the unsafe cladding from social housing blocks have made progress — but still has a long way to go — leaseholders who bought a home in private developments have languished in limbo for the past 22 months.
Arguments over who should pay for the remediation works to replace the unsafe cladding — developers, freeholders, managing agents or homeowners themselves — has all but stalled efforts to remove the cladding.
Thousands of residents in the city, and thousands more elsewhere in the country, have been hit with the prospect of having to pay hefty bills, coming to tens of thousands of pounds, to see their buildings made safe. To add to their fears over the safety of their homes, is the dread of potential financial ruin.
Government provided a fund of £400 million to help pay for the removal of the cladding from highrise social housing, but for the private sector ministers have so far offered little more than pleas for building owners to do the right thing and pay for the works themselves.
Now residents from Manchester’s Green Quarter, City Gate, Skyline Central 1, and Burton Place apartment buildings have joined forces to try and push for change.
“We have been working with a number of other resident groups and Manchester City Council for many months,” said co-founder Alex Di Giuseppe, a resident of City Gate in the Castlefields district. “We have chosen this name because we literally feel like we are fighting for our lives, as well as our financial futures.
“We go to bed and wake up every day with the threat of paying much more than we can afford to make our homes safe hanging over us. What is helping us hang on is the mutual support from other Manchester residents.
“Manchester Cladiators is here to support any Manchester resident groups facing fire safety issues, not just Grenfell-style cladding. Together I hope we can persuade Government to do the right thing and end our cladding scandal.”
Councillor Suzanne Richards, Manchester City Council’s executive member for housing and regeneration added: “Whilst some success has been had persuading developers and freeholders to pay for unsafe cladding replacement, in a growing number of cases residents are being threatened with life changing bills.
“Every day that passes it seems that a new block contacts us with ever more shocking stories. The worst story we have heard so far is residents being asked to pay up to £80,000, but every resident shares a harrowing story of being anxious and stressed about their safety and financial security.
“Manchester City Council welcomes the launch of Manchester Cladiators and will continue to provide them and all affected Manchester resident groups with our full support until Government steps to end this cladding scandal.”
The 342 residents of Cypress Place and Vallea Court in Manchester’s Green Quarter had been the first to learn they had the unsafe Grenfell-style cladding in 2017, beginning a long fight to oppose being charged in the region of £20,000 each for the remediation works.
In February this year, their struggle ended when a consortium led by Lendlease agreed to meet the costs of replacing the cladding.
Following this, the Green Quarter residents said they have decided to support other resident groups that have come forward to campaign against the charges, resulting in the launch of Manchester Cladiators. Furthermore, the organisation has taken a stand alongside the UK Cladding Action Group (UKCAG) and others for its national #EndOurCladdingScandal campaign.
The Cladiators’ launch comes as UKCAG released the findings of a survey that reveals the toll the affair is taking on leaseholders’ mental health.
The survey of 196 residents showed 64.8% of residents say their mental health has been “hugely affected” by the cladding issues, with 81.6% experiencing stress, 77.6% anxiety, 23% depression and 1.5% PTSD.
A quarter (25.5%) have sought medical help due to mental health issues, while 15.3% said they were receiving medical attention. A total of 38.3% of residents said they had turned to alcohol to help cope with the stress while 8.7% said they were experiencing suicidal feelings as a result.
“These figures reveal nothing short of a mental health crisis among residents of these buildings,” said William Martin, a member of UKCAG, who is a resident of Sheffield’s Metis building. “The threat of financial ruin combined with the safety fears that come from sleeping each night in a building which is known to be unsafe is ruining lives.
“Many residents are first-time buyers, young families and professionals at their start of their working life who simply cannot afford the bill for the refurbishment. In many blocks, residents have already spent their life savings paying for interim measures. It is beyond time for the Government to step in and act.”
The survey of residents, which covers blocks in 10 local authority areas mostly in London and Manchester, also show 92.3% have money worries, 65.8% have difficulty sleeping and 58.7% feel anxious or worried daily about the cladding issues.
Despite promises from ministers that leaseholders would not pay, the survey claims 82.6% have seen service charges go up, with 24% reporting that more than £200,000 has been spent. This money is often being used to cover the cost of 24-hour ‘waking watches’ of fire wardens to patrol the blocks, UKCAG says. A total of 30.1% have had to seek financial help to pay, while 10.7% have taken out loans.
Two thirds (66.3%) say they have been told by surveyors that their homes are unsellable as a result of the cladding issues, leaving them effectively trapped in the dangerous buildings. A further 25% have said that they cannot start a family as a result.
The latest figures from the monthly Building Safety Programme, released by the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG), show that as of the end of March 2019, 89 highrise residential and publicly owned buildings in England had completed remediation works to remove the ACM cladding.
Of the residential buildings, 46 were social housing blocks owned by housing associations or councils; 41 private sector buildings, of which 10 were private residential and 31 were student accommodation.
This leaves a total of 345 highrise residential and publicly-owned buildings with ACM cladding systems unlikely to meet Building Regulations that are yet to be remediated. Of these, the release says:
- 112 are social sector residential buildings and 89 have started remediation works; 22 have a remediation plan in place but work has not yet started; while one building has reported an intent to remediate and is developing plans
- 226 are private sector buildings, of which 166 are private residential, 29 are student accommodation, and 31 are hotels. Of these, 16 have started remediation works; 126 have a remediation plan in place but haven’t yet started work; 37 have reported an intent to remediate and are developing plans; while 47 buildings have unclear remediation plans
- Seven are publicly-owned buildings, all health buildings.
- There remain 15 private sector buildings where the cladding status is still to be confirmed
Last week, Clive Betts MP — chair of the Housing, Communities & Local Government select committee, wrote to housing minister Kit Malthouse urging the Government to take steps to resolve the situation.
Citing the latest Building Safety Programme figures, he noted: “Almost two years on from the fire at Grenfell Tower, this does not suggest that building owners are addressing this issue with the urgency that is required.”
Betts added: “[W]e feel the Government needs to act with greater urgency to ensure that unsafe cladding is removed from residential buildings without further delay and guarantee that leaseholders are not left to pay for the mistakes of their developers, freeholders and managing agents.”
Meanwhile, the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign is calling on the Government to announce a fund to cover the costs of removing the cladding from highrises before the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire on 14 June.
It also calls for the work to be completed within two years as a condition of the funding and for residents to be reimbursed for the costs already incurred paying for interim measures.
The campaign has the support of the Grenfell United group of bereaved relatives and survivors of the fire, as well as politicians from across the political spectrum. They include Sir Peter Bottomley, the Conservative chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Leasehold and Commonhold Reform, and celebrities such as TV architect George Clarke and indie band Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly.