On Thursday evening, Preet Kaur Gill, MP for Birmingham Edgbaston chaired a Birmingham Cladding Scandal Summit attended by more than 100 people affected by cladding and fire safety issues in the city. The event, co-hosted by Shabana Mahmood, MP for Birmingham Ladywood, gave residents an opportunity to share their testimonies and put their questions directly to Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Building Safety and Communities, along with Mike Amesbury MP, Shadow Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
After introductory remarks from Preet and the other politicians on the call, the attendees and panellists heard presentations from leaseholders living in buildings with unsafe cladding in the city, which included Jen Reid from Islington Gates, a first time buyer who bought her flat last year and who is now facing bills of up to a third of the original cost of her flat, which is currently valued at zero. She said:
“We are facing losing our building insurance at which point I will also be in default of my lease and my mortgage. This situation has been a living nightmare every day since I found out.”
Tom Brothwell from Brindley House, spoke about the financial fallout from the scandal, including a huge spike in insurance costs for the building which have increased 1000% over two years, from £23,000 two years’ ago to £500,000 this year, as well as rapidly rising service charges. He said:
“One of my neighbours is housing association, she is a pensioner, she owns a quarter of her property but she is paying 100% of these costs.”
Vickie Pargetter from Hemisphere, spoke about the serious impact it has had on her family life and mental health. She spoke about how the situation has left her and her husband feeling trapped and severely impacted their mental health to the point that they have both been prescribed antidepressants. Vickie went on to say:
“Besides the stress and anxiety that this situation causes us on a daily basis, if we can’t secure funding from the government, or elsewhere, and the costs fall to us leaseholders it could wipe out all of our savings, and more, meaning we can’t move even when all of this is sorted. The likely timeframe for getting a resolution is lengthy – so much so it will probably prohibit us from trying for a sibling for Blake as I will be too old when it is resolved.”
Tom White, also from Hemisphere, spoke about the impact the scandal has had on him as a first-time buyer with no safety net. He said:
“There is no such thing for someone in my position as an affordable amount to pay towards remediation, not when the associated costs of waking watch and rising insurance premiums are threatening to price me out already.
“If these costs fall on leaseholders, I and many others will be trapped in our flats with rising bills and unable to sell. my mental wellbeing is taking a severe hit—I have already taken days off work to cope with these stresses, and I expect many more sleepless nights in the months ahead.
“We as leaseholders did not design the buildings, we did not build the buildings, and we don’t own the land they are situated on either. We were each told, unequivocally, that these buildings were safe to live in.”
In his response to leaseholders’ concerns about the costs for remediation work, Lord Greenhalgh acknowledged that the projected £1 billion Building Safety Fund most likely won’t last beyond next summer at the current pace they are going at. Lord Greenhalgh also said that they are close to having a risk-based approach to fire safety that will be adopted by lenders.
Preet asked what the government is going to do to make sure that leaseholders don’t have to spend any more money, and what it is going to do to show it is on the side of leaseholders.
Lord Greenhalgh said that he is in public life to do good and to try and make a difference. He said:
“I’m an unpaid minister, I’m doing this because I want to do good. I’m not trying to harm anybody. I want to see the right thing happen. I’m trying to make progress on this, but it is not straightforward.”