I was very disturbed by what I witnessed during my visit to St Francis Tower yesterday to meet residents. A massive shrink wrap now covers the Tower. My constituents are literally living in the dark, virtually no natural sun light. No consultation and they’ve been told it could all last 18 months.
Bizarrely construction work on the building hasn’t even started. I fear that this will be debilitating to the mental health of my constituents.
The building manager has shown a total lack of respect and regard to St Francis Road residents and it cannot continue.
I have already written one letter to the building manager but will be sending a second very strongly worded letter following my visit. I will also be alerting the Housing Minister and raising in Parliament as many times as I need to until this is sorted.
As a word “angry” doesn’t do justice to the emotions I felt when I left the Tower.
Today I spoke in the debate on the Fire Safety Bill in support of the McPartland Smith Amendment to which I was an early signatory. This amendment was designed to protect leaseholders from unfair costs of rectifying the issue of unsafe insulation within their buildings. Unfortunately this amendment was not accepted and we didn’t have the opportunity to vote upon it. However the Minister did seem to be open to compromise though which was welcome.
I have previously welcomed the support that Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced. The £3.5 billion fund to remove unsafe cladding from buildings over 18m will benefit many of my constituents. This is on top of the already existing £1.6 billion Fire Safety Fund. My first surgery appointment after my election involved me meeting with St Francis Tower leaseholders and I’m glad that since that meeting there has been progress and they no longer have uncertainty hanging over them.
But I made it clear again today that, while this is a good start, this support doesn’t touch a number of my constituents affected by unsafe insulation. Many of those in Ipswich who have come to me since my election still have this uncertainty hanging over their lives which is unacceptable.
The Minister stated that the Building Safety Bill that will be brought forward shortly will be an opportunity for Government legislation to pick up on the issues raised by the amendment that I signed. I plan to work closely with Government to try and make sure this is the case.
I made a promise to my constituents that I would leave no leaseholder behind, yet sadly there are still a significant number of leaseholders who do feel left behind and this needs to be addressed. I’ve worked closely with Minister’s over the past couple of days to try and secure the assurances I need on behalf of my constituents but we’re not currently where we need to be which is why I was prepared to vote for the amendment today.
This is an issue which affects a number of his constituents and about which Tom feels there a clear moral obligation to protect leaseholders who, through no fault of their own, have been put in danger and should not have to front the cost of rectifying safety defects.
His statement is below:
‘FIRE SAFETY BILL AMENDMENT: Along with around 10 other Conservative MPs I have signed an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill which would prevent leaseholders with being saddled with the costs of remediation works that need to take place to address fire safety issues relating to their building, more often than not to do with dangerous cladding (but not always). It should be either the freeholder or the builder who should pick up the tab for this not the leaseholder and I believe that the Government should provide certainty to leaseholders as soon as possible which is why I have signed this amendment.
As many of you will know, many Ipswich residents who are leaseholders have been impacted by this. St Francis Tower and Cardinal Lofts being two high profile examples but there are other examples across the Town, this is a big issue and it’s not going away. Recently the “Ipswich Cladiators” group was established to represent leaseholders and I attended their inaugural meeting. The leaseholder is in no way to blame for any fire safety defects and therefore its morally wrong in my view for them to often be saddled with eye watering bills, often this also means that the values of their homes have plummeted. Following a debate that I took part in shortly after getting elected the Government did establish a £1 billion “Building Safety Fund” to help address the costs but this isn’t enough.
I understand why the Government wants to have it out with freeholders and builders about who should ultimately meet the costs here, but it shouldn’t be the leaseholders who are caught in the middle. I hope that over the coming weeks the Government will listen to what we’re calling for and provide leaseholders with the reassurance they need.’
Used an urgent question in Parliament today to raise the huge costs being faced by leaseholders at Cardinal Lofts by the Waterfront as a result of the dangerous cladding on their building. I’ve been in close contact with residents of Cardinal Lofts who’ve written to me about how they’ve essentially had a note slipped under their door by the management company telling them they now have to pay almost £400 per month per flat for a waking watch because of the fire risk. This is unacceptable when they weren’t responsible for putting this dangerous cladding up. Clearly the bill should be being slipped under the door of those who are responsible.
This is a huge amount of money and understandably it’s left leaseholders with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over them. Especially as some I’ve spoken to have said their property price has already plummeted and many are under real financial pressure as it is because of Covid-19.
This is a fundamental issue of fairness and I’ve been raising the similar cladding issues affecting St Francis Tower in Parliament since soon after I was elected. But since then more and more buildings in Ipswich have had issues. And I called today on the Housing Minister to meet with me to discuss how we can provide residents at Cardinal Lofts with the certainty leaseholders need and deserve. The Government needs to look very closely at whether we can stop leaseholders being caught in limbo by providing the funding for cladding replacement up front, and pursuing the freeholders responsible for putting it up afterwards.
I’ve also been working with leaseholders at Cardinal Lofts to submit written questions asking the Government to look at direct support for leaseholders with the cost of waking watches and other interim fire safety measures. The Government’s £1 billion Fire Safety Fund does help with cladding replacement costs (although I think it should go further) but it doesn’t cover incidental costs like waking watches before the cladding is removed.
I have meetings scheduled this week with Cardinal Lofts’ management company where I will raise the impersonal way residents have been contacted about these bills they face. And after my question today I’ll also be meeting with the Housing Minister again. I also hope to meet directly some of the leaseholders at Cardinal Lofts who’ve written in to me very shortly.
Whether it’s meetings, questions in Parliament like today, written questions or sending letters directly to Ministers, I’ll use every tool at my disposal to make sure leaseholders don’t have this cloud of uncertainty hanging over them for any longer.
Today (12/02/2020) Tom Hunt, MP for Ipswich, gave a speech in the Westminster Hall debate on leaseholders and cladding following numerous calls for help from residents of St Francis Tower in Ipswich. He pledged to fight like a lion to get the Government to step in and save leaseholders from the prospect of costs of over £20,000 each for cladding replacement and fire safety works.
The issues around cladding at St Francis Tower was raised in one of Tom’s first surgeries with constituents as a newly elected MP. In that meeting and since, residents of the Tower have been in contact with him, detailing the great frustration and uncertainty they are still experiencing since the Grenfell tragedy in 2017 set off alarm bells about St Francis Tower’s cladding.
Tom plainly set out the issues which have made residents feel “trapped” to the Government in his speech. In respect to the huge costs faced by leaseholders to make the block safe, Tom made it clear that it must be the freeholders who did the dangerous refurbishment, not the leaseholders, who must take responsibility for the cost. While the freeholders are chased, the Government should expand its £200 million scheme for the removal of ACM cladding (the type on Grenfell tower) to include the just as dangerous ACM cladding which was on St Francis Tower. Tom said: “There is absolutely no logical reason why [residents of St Francis Tower] should be treated in any different way to those who live in properties where the cladding is ACM.” This is a crucial point of fairness for residents of St Francis Tower.
Tom also stressed the poor communication from Block Management, the company managing the building, to his constituents who live there. Hunt said Block Management’s communication has almost served to inflame residents’ anxieties and tensions rather than soothe them. This has compounded their ordeal.
Hunt conveyed the distress this ongoing issue has caused the residents of St Francis Tower. He told Westminster Hall how leaseholders had seen the price of their properties collapse and how the bill they are being told to pay is about a third of the cost of the properties themselves. Tom has heard from constituents who have savings and investments tied up in the flats and who are now unable to move home, get a return on their investment, or cash in their savings. Many of them are stuck, not just financially but also emotionally.
Following his speech, Tom said:
“Over 100 of my constituents live in St Francis Tower and they have had this issue hanging over their head for far too long. It’s clearly a process which has been emotionally and financially draining for them and that’s why I called on the Government today to step in. Money should be made available for the replacement of cladding of the type found on St Francis Tower on the same basis that money is available to replace the type of cladding that was on Grenfell Tower – especially given it’s just as dangerous.”
“This is what needs to happen in the short-term to provide residents with some much needed certainty but in the long-term I encourage the Government to track down the freeholders responsible for the dangerous refurbishments to recoup the cost. These are the people who were supposed to have knowledge of the issue and who should have obeyed the regulations at the time – not the leaseholders. It’s unjustifiable that it is now on leaseholders to pay the huge costs caused by this catalogue of errors which is entirely not their fault.
“I will continue my close contact with St Francis Tower residents and will not stop raising this issue with Government. I stand by them in demanding clearer communication from Block Management and resolving a situation where one of their most valuable assets is completely frozen.”