Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook has criticised “reprehensible” proposals to make leaseholders pay to make the cladding on their homes safe, hours after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer visited Thamesmead residents who fear bankruptcy.
Pennycook spoke out in a Labour debate in the House of Commons on the crisis following the Grenfell Tower disaster, which revealed safety defects on hundreds of blocks across the country.
Blocks in both Greenwich and Lewisham boroughs have been particularly badly hit, including the residents of Barratt-built Royal Artillery Quays in west Thamesmead, who face a £13 million bill to remove flammable cladding.
853 has also highlighted the plight of residents in Norfolk House in Deptford, who fear a £3 million bill for remedial works.
Pennycook and Starmer visited Royal Artillery Quays yesterday to meet residents ahead of the Commons debate, called to press the government to provide upfront funding so dangerous cladding can be fixed quickly and to pursue those responsible for the costs.
These stories are heartbreaking.
Tonight, the Conservatives must vote to end the cladding scandal. pic.twitter.com/mityr8PH2B
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) February 1, 2021
It has been widely reported that a report commissioned from insurance executive and Conservative party donor Michael Wade will instead recommend long-term loans which will have to be paid back by leaseholders.
Pennycook said: “The fact that ministers are even contemplating a proposal of that kind is utterly reprehensible, given the commitments made that blameless leaseholders in privately owned blocks would be fully protected from cladding costs in all circumstances.
“There are other solutions that can provide upfront funding to accelerate the pace of remediation and that would protect the general taxpayer as well as leaseholders. All that is required is that ministers give them serious consideration and, more importantly, that they steel themselves finally to confront the vested interests that created this problem in the first place.”
Lewisham Deptford MP Vicky Foxcroft spoke up for the residents of Norfolk House as well as Aragon Tower on the Pepys Estate in Deptford, “where, following extensive testing, the fire break system was found not to be working”, she said.
“When challenged, the developers, Berkeley Homes, refused to take any responsibility, leaving many residents stuck and unable to sell,” Foxcroft added.
Issues with the Parkside development on the Lewisham/Greenwich border were raised by Lewisham East MP Janet Daby, who said 20 residents had been unable to sell or mortgage their flats because of issues with their blocks.
“Those living in potentially dangerous situations are everyday people. Many have been working tirelessly during the pandemic. Some are food bank volunteers, administrators and other key workers. They are retired people, families, first-time buyers, shared homeowners and so on,” she said.
“Millions of homeowners are unable to move, remortgage or rent. The government’s dither and delay has left innocent leaseholders feeling trapped. What was once their dream home has become a recurring nightmare.”
Labour is calling on the government to follow the example of the state of Victoria in Australia by setting up a taskforce to establish the extent of dangerous cladding, prioritised by risk, and force companies to carry out the remedial works.
Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire, who moved the motion, said: “ Residents did not cause this crisis. They bought their homes in good faith only to find themselves victim to years of corporate malpractice, Government inaction and a broken leasehold system. Ministers have promised at least 15 times that leaseholders would not bear the cost, but recently the language has shifted to state that they should not bear “unaffordable” costs, and there is talk of loans.”
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick did not attend the debate. In his place, minister Eddie Hughes said Jenrick “will be making an announcement on this important work at the earliest opportunity”.
While several Conservative MPs criticised the government’s handling of the issue, none voted in favour of the Labour motion; a number of Tories are supporting a separate amendment to exempt leaseholders from costs.
MPs voted by 263 to 0 in support of the non-binding motion urging the government to establish a national cladding taskforce. Conservative MPs were ordered to abstain.
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