Cladding crisis: Birmingham campaigners ‘cautiously optimistic’ after government proposals

Campaigners frustrated that the government move to get the building industry to pay for dangerous cladding doesn’t go far enough

One of the founders of a Birmingham leaseholder action organisation has welcomed the government’s plans to ensure that property developers pay the cost of replacing unsafe cladding.

But Jim Ilingworth, one of the founders of the Birmingham Leaseholder Action Group (BrumLAG) whose home has been blighted by the cladding issue, also expressed frustration as there has been no confirmation that the plans will also cover non-cladding fire safety costs.

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Labour MP Shabana Mahmood who has being campaigning alongside leaseholders has also criticised the government for taking too long to get to this point.

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Housing, said in Parliament on Monday (January 10), that the government will take “every step necessary” to ensure the building industry fixes the problem of dangerous cladding blighting thousands of leaseholders in medium rise blocks.

He confirmed that leaseholders in buildings between 11m to 18m would no longer have to take out loans to pay for removing cladding - bringing them in line those living in high-rise blocks

Jim and Katie Illingworth

Living in darkness through the cladding crisis

Mr Illingworth is a resident of the Islington Gates apartment complex, near the Jewellery Quarter, where leaseholders have been left living in darkness under giant plastic sheeting for months while they wait for works to remove dangerous cladding from their flats to be completed.

Speaking to BirminghamWorld following the Government’s announcement, Jim said: “It’s a starting point. Mr Gove seems to be listening to what’s happening and is not particularly happy with the way leaseholders are being treated.

“So he says he wants to get to the bottom of it, but we’re cautiously optimistic because we’ve had many false starts before.

“There are still a lot of questions, such as how is he going force the construction industry to pay up? and to pay up now because the bills are arriving now.

“It’s not a case of ‘we will get them to pay up in five or six years’ - the bills for leaseholders are arriving now.

“And leaseholders have been hung out to dry by so many small prints over the years, so we’re very cautious about this being seen as the solution.”

Mr Illingworth did express his disappointment that there has been no confirmation about whether the government’s plans will cover non-cladding fire safety issues or interim costs for leaseholders -which can be just as dangerous as external cladding and cost thousands of pounds.

He said: “It’s only specific cladding costs. It looks as though all the other costs will still be on the leaseholders’ shoulders.

“So at BrumLAG we are cautiously optimistic, but we are also disappointed that the non cladding bits weren’t included.”

Shabana Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood

‘It’s taken too long to get to this point’

Shabana Mahmood, MP for Birmingham Ladywood has been campaigning for a number of years on behalf of leaseholders in Birmingham.

Following the government announcement, she said: “Whilst I welcome the changes announced today, it is completely unacceptable that it has taken nearly five years to get to this point.

“The government has finally started listening to campaigners and brought forward some workable proposals. Of course, the real test will be in the delivery and I’m hoping that after many false starts from this government the measures announced today will stand up to scrutiny.

“In particular, I welcome the decision to prohibit developers who are not paying their share from procurement and planning processes – something I and others have long been campaigning for.

“But these proposals do nothing to support those living with non-cladding defects, nor will it fix the long-term problem of soaring insurance costs that innocent leaseholders simply cannot afford.

“The government must now set out a detailed plan for making developers pay as well as crystal clear legal protections for leaseholders through the Building Safety Bill to ensure that developers responsible for this scandal are held to account.”

Michael Gove is the Levelling Up Secretary.

What else did Mr Gove say about the plans?

Four and half years after the Grenfell fire exposed the dangers of cladding, he said that no leaseholder living in a block above 11 metres would have to pay for fixing dangerous problems.

Many leaseholders have been left in debt due to the cladding crisis.

Mr Gove that he had “an absolute assurance” from Chancellor Rishi Sunak that he was ready to impose taxes on the building sector if they were not prepared to come forward with a solution to cladding issues.

“We will take action to end this scandal and protect leaseholders,” he said.

“We will make industry pay to fix all the remaining problems and help to cover range of costs facing leaseholders.

“Those who manufactured combustible cladding and insulation – many of whom have made vast profits, even at the height of the pandemic – they must pay now instead of leaseholders.”

Mr Gove said while he was seeking to convene a meeting with industry to find an agreed way, he was ready if necessary to “impose a solution on them in law” to cover the estimated £4 billion costs to deal with the issue.

“We do need to have additional backstops and it is clear that taxes can, if necessary, play (a part). I don’t want to move there but we do have the absolute assurance that we can use the prospect of taxation to bring people to the table,” he said.

“The fact that the (Treasury) Chief Secretary (Simon Clarke) and the Chancellor have authorised me to use the prospect of taxation, shows that we are prepared to take every step necessary.”

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