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Furious Tory Cladding Campaigner Slates Government's "Incompetent" Handling Of The Crisis

6 min read

Boris Johnson must take personal charge of the cladding crisis from “incompetent” Robert Jenrick’s housing department, according to Tory backbencher Stephen McPartland.

McPartland told PoliticsHome thousands of people have been betrayed by the government’s financial package, that will support only some leaseholders who have dangerous cladding on their buildings.

While a building safety fund, worth an unprecedented £5 billion, announced by Jenrick means no leaseholders in buildings over 18m tall will have to pay for remediation work to cladding at all, those living in blocks under 18m will have to take out loans to pay for the work. These will be capped at £50 a month.

“It’s shocking incompetence. I couldn’t believe he managed to get it so wrong. It’s a massive betrayal,” McPartland added.Robert Jenrick

He said the government had previously promised that no leaseholder would have to face costs to improve the fire safety standards on the buildings they bought in food faith. However he said today’s financial package still leaves people living in 76,000 properties between 11m and 18m facing loans and other related costs.

“I think it's terrible because the government has done a lot of brilliant things, but you’ve the secretary of state and the housing minister who just clearly haven’t got a grip of the situation," McPartland continued. 

"It affects up to 11m people in this country. These guys have demonstrated they're not up to the task. They've demonstrated they can't do it.

"The Prime Minister needs to make sure the whole power of No 10 is onto resolving this problem."

In response to Mr McPartland, the prime minister’s press secretary, Allegra Statton, said: “Clearly we will encourage McPartland to look closely at the package that’s been drawn up. Before, it was a £1.6 billion package.

“Now, it’s £5 billion. It is detailed. It is looking at the awful situation many people find themselves in and we will think it will go a very long way to addressing the insecurity and stress that people find themselves in when they are in flats that they worry about.”

McPartland, MP for Stevenage, is leading an amendment to the forthcoming Fire Safety Bill that would mean no leaseholder should have to pay for any remediation work to cladding or fire safety defects on their building. After today’s announcement he is encouraging leaseholders who feel let down to write to their MP to get them to sign it. It already has the backing of 39 Conservatives.

He said Jenrick had been careful to only mention cladding throughout his statement, and not refer to financial support for fire safety defects which might have also been uncovered.

“For most people those fire safety defects are where the real costs are, and there was no mention of any support for any of them.

“So even people in buildings over 18m who would be getting support with cladding, wouldn’t be getting any support with fire safety defects,” he said.

Further fire safety defects have been discovered while assessments have taken place on cladding, and during other general fire safety checks carried out high-rise buildings after the Grenfell Tower fire. Discoveries have included missing fire breaks, no fire doors, missing fire collars and flammable insulation.

McPartland said the true cost of fixing cladding and fire safety work, so no leaseholders have to pay, would in reality be nearer £15 billion.  

He also estimated the that a typical bill for cladding remediation work for someone in a building between 11m and 18m can cost leaseholders £50,000, which if paid at the government's capped rate of £50 a month would take 83 years to pay off.

The responsibility for paying back the loan would be transferred to anyone new who subsequently took over the flat's leasehold, Jenrick confirmed, rather than falling to the leaseholder at the time of taking out the loan for life.

But McPartland highlighted this could present further problems for leaseholders. “Well you’ve just wiped £50,000 off the value of the flat,” he said. 

Paul Afshar, campaigner for End Our Cladding Scandal, said the group felt let down by the government today.

"Robert Jenrick needs to get a grip on the cladding crisis," he said. 

“Where is the money for missing fire breaks, alarms or for cladding on buildings under 18m? Leaseholders are the victims of this crisis and have done nothing wrong to deserve this."

A leaseholder who owns a flat in a building under 18m in Leyton, East London, and had been hoping for reassurance from Robert Jenrick’s statement today, told PoliticsHome that instead he is still staring at looming costs.

He said: “I will still cry myself to sleep, worrying about the future. My life is still on hold. Today’s statement shows no light at the end of the tunnel. I can’t go on living like this. The government is working to create nice headlines and a statement to fall back on, but the reality is, leaseholders will still have to pay.”

Up to 700,000 people in the UK are living in homes with unsafe cladding, brought to light after the fire at Grenfell Tower in West London, which killed 72 people in June 2017.

Jenrick said the scheme was an “exceptional intervention” for leaseholders in high rise residential buildings over 18m, "who now know they do not have to pay for the removal of cladding".

He believed those in buildings between 11m and 18m would have “great comfort” from this new financing arrangement.

A developer levy will also be introduced to developers who want to create certain high-rise buildings in England, he said. And there will also be a new tax for the UK property development sector from 2022 set to raise £2 billion.

A government source said many Conservative MPs had been happy with the announcement today, including MPs who had signed McPartland's amendment.

Sir Peter Bottomley, who has campaigned on behalf of leaseholders spoke in the Commons after Jenrick's statement, and said it was a major step forwards.

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