Groups take ‘polluter pays’ message to Tory conference, as a leaseholder’s suicide is reported
The Bishop of Manchester has criticised the construction industry for lobbying and making political donations in the wake of the Grenfell fire.
David Walker said it could not be a coincidence that this was happening at the same time as leaseholders of flats with dangerous cladding were facing enormous individual bills to make their blocks safe. Some leaseholders in high-risk blocks have been left with bills running into the hundreds of thousands and flats that are worthless.
Walker, writing in the Observer, said he and residents’ groups such as the Manchester Cladiators were taking their message that the “polluter pays” to the Conservative party conference in Manchester, which housing secretary Michael Gove is due to address at 2pm today.
At a rally yesterday they said they want the concept of ‘polluter pays’ to be extended to housing. This is the principle that the maker of faulty washing machines or cars would have to withdraw them and compensate purchasers whether or not they were aware of the error at the time of manufacture.
Walker, who chairs a Manchester housing association, said the Building Safety Bill was the “perfect opportunity to resolve things once and for all” by including clauses to allow determination that a building was constructed wrongly, or with wrong materials, and to direct the costs of remediation back on to the developer.
He said European human rights law supported the view that parent companies could be made responsible where development was led by a special purpose vehicle that no longer exists with funds.
Where no developer can be found, or no breach of regulations occurred, public funds could be reimbursed via an industry levy, he added.
“None of this need involve residents in lengthy and expensive legal action. I struggle to believe that it is entirely coincidental that individuals and bodies connected with the construction industry have been such generous political donors and assiduous lobbyists in the years (too many already) since Grenfell went up in flames,” he wrote.
Last year the Grenfell Inquiry heard evidence of product manufacturers “gaming” tests to make their products look safer.
It also heard that Kingspan had hired a leading firm of political lobbyists straight after the tragedy that claimed 72 lives in a bid to influence key decision-makers including then home secretary Amber Rudd, housing secretary Sajid Javid and Judith Hackitt in an attempt to discredit rival products and avoid a ban on combustible materials.
Walker said: “To me, it seems plainly unjust that [leaseholders] should pay the price of other people’s mistakes, and as a bishop with more than 30 years’ active involvement in housing associations, it feels like an injustice I want to do something about.”
Fully agree with the Bishop of Manchester @BishManchester, who rightfully highlights that the building safety bill presents the government with an ideal opportunity to end the building safety crisis once and for all!https://t.co/Fwal5JROnL— SalfordMayor (@salford_mayor) October 3, 2021
He said MPs and peers from all parties supported them, adding: “We will be taking our message, politely but firmly, to their party conference here in Manchester this weekend. And to every other major political stage we can speak on, until Britain’s homes are made safe.”
Tory MP Stephen McPartland has said: “There is so much we could do to help leaseholders if the will was there.” His amendment to the bill earlier this year, attempting to protect leaseholders from paying for historic fire safety costs, was passed by the House of Lords but later overturned by the Commons.
This weekend it emerged that a buy-to-let leaseholder who owned four flats in Leeds had killed himself because of the anxiety caused by the bills he was facing which ran into tens of thousands of pounds.
This is tragic. It was going to happen sometime. Surely this must persuade Government, developers and others resolve to find an urgent solution to the building safety crisis. #PolluterPays @EOCS_Official @raq_residents pic.twitter.com/Xb4XimPymg— Graham Tomlin (@gtomlin) October 3, 2021
The Sunday Mirror described 37-year-old Tom Mansell as the “first suicide victim linked to the UK cladding scandal”.
Six towers at the Leeds Dock development where he had invested were found to have flammable cladding, missing fire breaks and timber balconies, the paper reported. Work has yet to begin and government help has not been signed off five months after the management firm – which said the blocks were eligible – applied for state funding.
Graham Tomlin, the Bishop of Kensington who has been heavily involved in supporting the Grenfell community and the fight for justice, tweeted: “This is tragic. It was going to happen sometime. Surely this must persuade Government, developers and others resolve to find an urgent solution to the building safety crisis.”
Earlier this year a Church of England housing commission, vice-chaired by Tomlin, urged the government to create a 20-year, cross-party strategy to transform housing and solve multiple issues of injustice from affordability to dangerous cladding.