This may seem a rather left-field subject for me to write about. However, I have friends who I met through a social running club, who are suffering due to the consequences of living in, and owning, an apartment in a block with unsafe cladding. What is happening to them, and thousands of others, is not fair. The world is a strange place now but their voices need to be heard, and their plight, not forgotten.
Remember Grenfell? Hard to believe but it was almost 3 years ago when a fire broke out in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block, in North Kensington, killing 72 innocent people, with just as many also suffering injuries and burns. It was the worst UK residential fire since the Second World War.
Most of us watched on with horror as the news unfolded, felt dreadfully sorry for the victims and their families, and did what we could in any small way whilst also marvelling at the community and hospitality in the immediate area.
Then, the news turned to other matters. Brexit. And our minds turned to other matters. Our lives.
The fall-out and ramifications of the Grenfell disaster continue today though, and is having a massive impact on the lives of people. Huge amounts of testing has been undertaken on different types of apartment block cladding. There are different types of cladding. There is Aluminium composite material (ACM) and there is high-pressure laminate (HPL). Grenfell Tower had ACM. There is a government funding scheme (£200 million for private leaseholders) to replace ACM in apartment blocks across the country. Whilst this is absolutely right and proper, it takes a long time to replace such materials the length and breadth of the country. In the meantime, residents can’t move (their apartments are unsellable and are unable to be re-mortgaged), and they feel unsafe.
Imagine though, being deprived of the opportunity to move, feeling unsafe, and then being told that you need to pay north of £30,000 to cover the costs of the replacement cladding in your apartment block. This is what many people who live in apartment blocks with HPL cladding which has been deemed also to be unsafe have been told, and it is still not known if this will definitely be covered in the new £1 billion fund available which was revealed in the recent budget. This is the material that covered the student accommodation block in Bolton that caught fire in November 2019.
Imagine that. How many people that that kind of money? Even if you do, why should they have to pay for it, in a building, a home, that independent surveyors at the time of purchase confirmed was safe and insurable.
Political, legal, financial and technological issues overlap, connect, unravel and get shunted up and down the priority line. This is felt now even more than ever as the fight against the Coronavirus outbreak is now front and centre of the government’s attention.
However, spare a thought for those who live in affected apartment blocks where remediation work has halted and they are self-isolating in homes that are unsafe. The impact on their mental health and well-being is real and should not be underestimated.