By Green Quarter residents (@GqrMcr)
For 18 months residents living in the Green Quarter, Manchester, have been living with the knowledge that two of our blocks have the type of cladding that is “more flammable than petrol”; the same cladding that facilitated the Grenfell Tower fire to take hold so rapidly and with such devastating loss of life. No-one who witnessed those images of this wholly unnecessary tragedy will forget the haunting desperation that we saw on the faces of the relatives and friends of those whose lives had been lost, or the bravery of the firefighters who fought so hard to contain the fire. The use of this cladding, which had already been implicated in other similar tragedies, made it impossible for this fire to be contained – no amount of will, resource or firefighting expertise could have contained this type of inferno. With this knowledge, the continued use of this cladding on such a colossal scale is a national scandal, and one that will leave a permanent scar on our construction industry.
Yet here we are at the beginning of 2019, and most of the buildings that have been identified throughout the UK as having ACM3 panels, some 18 months or so post-Grenfell, remain largely unchanged – the cladding remains in place and we remain fearful for our safety with every minute, hour and day that passes. Our mental health has been affected because for us, there is no escape. We continue to be caught in a safety and financial trap - we cannot sell or remortgage our properties until such time the cladding is removed and replaced.
For residents in private sector buildings identified as having this accelerant-type cladding we were often hopeful and encouraged by Government assurances from James Brokenshire and Kit Malthouse, that the cost will be met, not by leaseholders, but by the freeholder or developers. In a statement regarding this issue, Brokenshire threatened that if they did not “do the right thing”, they may be banned from public sector contracts in the future - the threat stated that if developers did not do the right thing sooner, they would face the consequences later.
This hope turned to despair as we were taken to a First-Tier Tribunal by our freeholders so that they could seek to confirm if they could legally claim back, from leaseholders, the cost of any remediation works. For us, the frightening confirmation that we would liable to pay the cost of making our homes safe arrived with the Tribunal’s legally binding decision in late July 2018. The ruling, citing the sweeping clause contained in most leases, informed us that cladding replacement costs (and associated costs of waking watch) could legally be reclaimed via the service charge provision. It was legally justifiable, but morally indefensible.
Since that time we have lived with the threat that not only are our lives at peril every single day, but that our financial security (and our homes) could be pulled out from under us at any time. It was also confirmed that our freeholder’s legal costs of around £40,000 for taking us to the Tribunal could also be claimed from us through service charges. At that time, it was estimated that the cost of remediation works were in the region of £3m - this represented a cost to each leaseholder of approximately £12,000. However, now that the tendering process is complete, we know that the true cost has almost doubled to around £5m (£18,000).
Although, through our social media campaign, we have garnered a lot of support from so many different agencies and associations, for which we are profoundly grateful, and has, in turn, put some pressure on our developer and freeholder (Lendlease and Pemberstone), to fully fund these works, we are not there yet. We have had meetings with the freeholders, the developers, council officers, the Mayor and basically anyone else we felt could help end this nightmare.
While we continue to endure another day, week, month of trying to right this terrible wrong, to try to get confirmation that each of us will not face financial ruin, in one week we have had the news that Lendlease (a company which made £750m profit last year) has been awarded the lucrative £160m refurbishment of the iconic Manchester Town Hall. For us, this news felt like a complete betrayal. Our councillors and officials know how hard we have been fighting and how hard we continue to fight, yet it felt that they had ignored our pleas for help and perversely handed them this gift of a key contract instead. This hideous news was then followed within hours that Lendlease had also been awarded an even bigger public works contract by Birmingham City Council worth £1.5bn for the Birmingham Smithfield deal. This all rather flies in the face of Brokenshire’s threat that developers do the right thing now or face sanctions later.
I suppose the one silver lining in all of this, is that Lendlease will find it difficult to plead poverty now. Whether it will prompt them to confirm unambiguously that they will indeed step up to do the right thing remains to be seen. We are scheduled to have a further meeting at the end of this month, so once again only time will tell. But all we know for sure is that we want our lives back, we want this nightmare to end.
17 January 2019