The government is wrong to abandon residents of blocks with non-ACM cladding. We are living with the daily fear of fire and financial ruin, write Amy Du Quesne and James Oates
On 12 February, we were shocked to discover that the building in which we live, Skyline Central 1 in Manchester, did not comply with fire safety standards.
That shock was compounded when we learned that we, the leaseholders, would have to foot the bill to cover the cost of fixing unsafe cladding and poorly installed firebreaks.
Despite the government calling on developers to do the opposite, freeholder Adriatic Land 3 refused to pay for the work and passed on to us residents a bill of £1.6m plus VAT. That works out at around £25,000 a flat – a price that none of us could afford to pay.
Since then, the situation has got worse. Two days before the terrifying fire in Barking last week, we received a letter with a new bill stating that “due to the delay in the project commencing… costs of materials are rising… and they will have to pass them on”.
So, our new bill is nearly now £1.9m plus VAT – this is an increase of more than £200,000 in less than four months.
We are being placed under extreme pressure to agree to it as we were also informed that this “tender price is open until the end of July 2019”, after which we can expect another series of price rises. This is causing us anxiety – it is a rise in a cost that we already can’t afford to pay.
We live in a constant state of worry from living in unsafe conditions and the knowledge that the price to fix that is rising month on month.
Adriatic Land 3 has links to Long Harbour, which owns our sister property, Skyline Central 2. In 2014/15, a survey was carried out on the cladding of Skyline Central 2 that found exactly the same issues and defects with the firebreaks and construction of the cladding as are on our building.
However, Adriatic Land never passed on this information to us at the time. If it had done so in 2014/15, we would have been covered by the National House Building Council’s 10-year building warranty and the works could have been carried out without putting us under unbearable stress.
The developer West Properties (UK) completed the construction of Skyline Central 1 in 2006; it was dissolved in July 2014. That means that although the government is asking developers to correct unsafe, poor-standard work, this is no longer possible for us; many other buildings in the UK are facing the same situation.
The law is against residents.
In the wake of the Barking fire and with the two-year anniversary of the tragedy at Grenfell at the front of our minds, many of us are understandably suffering from huge stress and mental health issues. Loss of sleep, anxiety, fear of leaving electrical appliances switched on and panic at hearing alarms going off are just a few of the issues that have become a daily routine for us. This is before the possible financial implications that we face are factored in.
On 9 May, the government released a fund that it said will only be available to buildings clad with aluminium composite material – the material that was on Grenfell. That means buildings such as the Barking block and ours, with faulty firebreaks and cladding materials that are just as unsafe, will not be covered.
“The government has created a ‘cladding lottery’. Tens of thousands of us are left with not only the mental trauma of going to bed each night with the fear of a devastating fire, but also the anxiety of financial ruin to make our homes safe”
This ‘fund’ will fix fewer than half of the unsafe, risky buildings in the country; fires will happen in the ones it does not cover. The government has created a ‘cladding lottery’. Tens of thousands of us are left with not only the mental trauma of going to bed each night with the fear of a devastating fire, but also the anxiety of financial ruin to make our homes safe.
We simply cannot afford to pay this bill. Some of us have considered selling or remortgaging our property. However, this isn’t possible as lenders won’t provide mortgages on properties with cladding issues. We, as owners of these apartments, are stuck through no fault of our own living in unsafe properties we can’t afford to fix in homes that are close to worthless.
As a result of this, we at Skyline Central 1 co-founded the Manchester Cladiators; alongside Inside Housing and the UK Cladding Action Group (UKCAG), we also founded the #EndOurCladdingScandal campaign.
We are calling on the government to end our cladding scandal. We’re asking them to do the right thing and put a full fund in place to pay for all works to make unsafe private apartments in countless blocks all over the country safe to live in again.
We are all part of the same story and none of us should be left behind.
We live in buildings that are just as unsafe as Grenfell. Thankfully, no one was injured at Barking, but we don’t want it to take another tragic loss of life before the government finally steps in and does the right thing for everyone.
Amy Du Quesne and James Oates, residents, Skyline Central 1
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