New housing minister Christopher Pincher tweeted last Thursday, as his appointment was announced, that he was “delighted” to be taking up his new position in government. He was immediately inundated with messages from flat owners and campaign groups struggling to deal with unresolved cladding issues.
A blog post from the new minister in 2017 in response to the Grenfell tower tragedy seems to suggest that he is well versed in the issues surrounding dangerous cladding. However, as Ringley Group MD Mary-Anne Bowring explains, now it’s not just cladding that is in the spotlight. “We find out three years on from Grenfell that the External Wall System (EWS1) form requires us to understand the full system of the cladding, i.e. the cladding, the brackets, the fixing, the insulation behind the walls, etc,” she says.
Piling on more pain, yesterday the press reported on the fact that lenders are now refusing mortgages on flats in blocks below 18 metres. Last month Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced fire safety changes, including a consolidation of the fire safety advice into one advice note which states “building owners need to assess and manage the risk of external fire spread… [in] buildings of any height”.
Speaking in Parliament, he emphasised the fact that “there hadn’t been enough focus amongst building owners on buildings below 18 metres” and that “more action is needed to review these risks”. Lenders have picked up on this statement fast and flat owners are now feeling the effect.
It’s no surprise that lenders are protecting their own interests. After all, they are being asked to lend money against potentially dangerous homes that may not be fit for purpose. However, that is no comfort to the many flat owners around the country who can’t move, or to those who cannot afford a house and for whom buying a flat is the only option.
Our message to Christopher Pincher is to step up to the plate and tackle the problem head-on. More money must be found by the government to get blocks moving on rapid remediation. There are more than 4 million households living in flats around the country. If transactions continue to be log-jammed by issues around cladding, it won’t take long before the impact ripples out across the wider housing market, creating a whole new crisis to be dealt with.