FREP transcript – Cladding discussion
London Assembly Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee
13 October 2020
Item 5 – The Cladding Crisis and its Impact on Londoners – Panel 1
Andrew Dismore AM (Chair): This now brings us to our main item of business, a discussion on the cladding crisis and its impact on Londoners and the London Fire Brigade (LFB).
In the first section the Committee wanted to hear directly from Londoners on the impact of cladding problems on their lives. Can I welcome our guests? Thank you very much for being here to share your experiences with us today. Charlotte Daus and Amanda Wilson [London leaseholders], Samar Radwan from Samuel Garside House, and Ritu Saha, leaseholder and founding member of the UK Cladding Action Group (UKCAG).
We will start with the questions and perhaps I can start by asking each of you – we will start with Charlotte, then Amanda, then Samar and then Ritu, in that order – what issues you have faced with your building.
Charlotte Daus (London leaseholder): I live in somewhere called Heybourne Crescent. The freeholder is Notting Hill Genesis. We are based in Colindale NW9 and we are one of many buildings across Colindale and Hendon that are affected by these issues. We are part of the first phase of regeneration of the Grahame Park Estate, which is one of the biggest estates in Barnet.
On the issues we are facing, I am Chair of the Residents Association and I am also a leaseholder in a shared ownership property. In 2017, there was the Grenfell Inquiry and there was the Grenfell [Tower] fire. One of the taller buildings on our development, Lark Court, did have cladding removed. We were assured by Genesis – as it was then – that our homes were safe and we did not have combustible cladding on our houses and there was nothing to worry about. We felt safe.
At the beginning of this year a number of leaseholders were starting to find that they were not able to sell their homes because they did not have an External Wall Survey (EWS1) form. It was the first we had heard of it. Notting Hill Genesis did not make us aware of the requirement for an EWS1 form, which came in in January . We were completely unaware of this until people could not sell their flats. I could not get a new fixed-term rate on my mortgage.
We raised this with Notting Hill Genesis in February , which arranged after quite a lot of backwards and forwards for an intrusive survey to be carried out on the walls of our development. That was carried out in June and then the results of that were communicated to us in September. Those results showed that there were five materials which were potentially combustible on our development. We had failed the survey with a B2, which meant that we would not have the EWS1 form. This was on 9 September .
From then, they instantly implemented a waking watch. I am sure everybody is aware what a waking watch is. It is basically a company of people who, 24 hours a day, patrol your development to alert people if there is a fire. Our evacuation strategy went from stay put to get out. We have had the waking watch for over a month now. Residents are incredibly anxious about what the cost of the waking watch is going to be and what the cost of remedial work is going to be.
We have been told by Notting Hill Genesis that it cannot guarantee that leaseholders will not be footing the bill for the remedial work through the service charge, which for us is not acceptable because we all bought these homes in good faith. We all felt that they were safe. This is a failure of building safety. It is not down to us and we should not be recouping it from the service charge. On top of being very anxious about fire and potentially being woken in the middle of the night to get out of our properties and lose everything, we also have the worry of the costs, which could run into tens of thousands of pounds.
Notting Hill Genesis has not been that communicative with us. It has indicated that remedial work, which we may have to pay for, could take up to four years. It has had a massive impact. It is not just leaseholders. Tenants as well are very worried about being essentially in a tinderbox, which we have been living in for the past seven years. That is where we are at the moment.
Andrew Dismore AM (Chair): OK. Thanks for that. It all sounds pretty horrific. Amanda, would you like to say where your home is and how you have been affected?
Amanda Wilson (London leaseholder): Yes. To give you an outline of the circumstances, it was quite interesting to hear Charlotte there because we are in a similar situation. I am at the Bridges Wharf development, which is in Battersea on the riverfront. I bought the apartment there two years ago after 10 years of saving for an apartment. It was all fine and I went to sell it this year. I had an offer on it and then found out that the EWS1 form needed to be in place and so the offer fell through. I had planned to relocate and so that has scuppered all my plans for moving. There are 267 people in the development.
The other thing to mention is that ours is not aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding and so they have not put a waking watch in place, but they have said that we potentially require remedial work and they have served us with a section 20 notice. This means that if there are any financial implications it will come to us as leaseholders. They have done this before the Government grant has been applied for and failed and so we are all in a situation where we potentially are facing these costs when they have not even put the application in for the Government funding yet. They have estimated between £30,000 to £50,000 per flat. That is what we are looking at and that is the lower end of the scale.
The problem that we have at the moment is that because the EWS1 form has the B2 rating, we do not require a waking watch and we do not require any extra fire safety provision. We are all in the position where we are questioning this EWS1 form and whether we need this remedial work, which is going to be £5 million to £15 million for the whole development cost. That is where we are at the moment.
There are 267 flats on this development and it is over 18 metres. They are in three towers. The building is only about 10 years old and so it is not a very particularly old building. We have not had to have the safety measures that Charlotte has had to put in where we have required a waking watch and extra measures to be put in place, but everyone is really suffering and very stressed. There is the mental health impact of this on people. There are people in there who are waiting to have families, who potentially have two kids, have outgrown their apartment and cannot move on. The mortgage companies have basically valued our apartments at £0. It has been just devastating for everyone involved.
Andrew Dismore AM (Chair): Thank you for that. And Samar from Samuel Garside?
Samar Radwan (Resident, Samuel Garside House): Yes. I live at Samuel Garside House. Yes, it is pretty much the case as what Charlotte and Amanda spoke about. The building is very heavily cladded and right now we can do nothing, like they said, sell or even re-mortgage.
Even though the Samuel Garside House remedial work and the balcony replacement is almost toward the end, they stopped working last week and we are trapped, basically. We cannot get a survey to get the EWS1 form and there is a financial dispute between the companies. I do not know if I can say the names. We are stuck in the place. We do not get information. Basically, with a heavily cladded with wood building, we never had a waking guard or waking watch till after the fire took place.
Many of us are trapped. We do not know what to do. We are trying to communicate with the different parties like Adriatic Land 3, HomeGround and Residential Management Group, which is the property manager of the building, but we are getting nowhere and everybody is blaming the others for the work stoppage. That is it. We are trapped.
Andrew Dismore AM (Chair): OK. Thank you for that. Ritu?
Ritu Saha (Leaseholder and founding member, UK Cladding Action Group): Yes. I am Ritu. I live in a block called Northpoint in Bromley. We found out in November 2017 that our building has cladding, both ACM of the kind found on Grenfell Tower and other kinds like high-pressure laminate.
Since then, we have been living with a waking watch, which has to date cost the 57 families here more than £500,0000. We have had to put in a simultaneous evacuation fire alarm ourselves at a further cost of £120,000. We were the first building in the country to be approved for pre-tender ACM funding support. To date only £50,000 of that money has been disbursed for a project that is likely to cost about £2 million plus.
For the past more than 40 months since Grenfell, we have been living with the knowledge that we have walls that are as flammable as petrol. We have other fire safety issues like a lack of compartmentation.
My experience has been very similar to the other people speaking today. I got together with other leaseholders across the country in January 2019 because of the continued inaction of the people in power who are here to protect us. There was no support for leaseholders living in privately owned blocks. We wanted to get people across the country together so that we could have a strong united voice in challenging this injustice. That is why we formed UKCAG. Thank you.
Andrew Dismore AM (Chair): Thank you very much. To go around you all again, you have given us a pretty good picture of the problems but how have they impacted on you, your family and other residents? Shall we start with Charlotte and work around again?
Charlotte Daus (London leaseholder): I was not planning on selling anytime soon and I am very happy where I live, but it has had a massive impact mentally, knowing that we have been in potentially unsafe homes for a long time and were not advised of it. Especially if you look back to when they did remove the cladding at Lark [Court], which is a taller block, in 2017, there is a creeping feeling. Did Notting Hill Genesis know that further down the line it would have to remedy the rest of the development, which is built with the same materials?
Also, there has been the stress of not knowing how much it is going to cost. Like Amanda [Wilson] said, they are meant to be applying for the next round of funding in December  but we have already received section 20 notices for a fire alarm. The fire alarm, they have told us, would not remove the waking watch and so potentially we are paying for the fire alarm and the waking watch. That has a huge financial shadow hanging over us, which is very stressful in itself.
A lot of us have developed a building action group around this, which is taking up a lot of our time. Most people have busy families and full-time jobs and then we are also having to do all this work as people to get to the bottom of what is happening. It has been a massive drain on our time and our energy and our emotional reserves.
For a lot of the children in the development, there is a lot of anxiety around fires. My daughter asked me what was happening and I had to tell her. It was a really difficult conversation.
Additionally, I know the people who live above were due to be selling because she had a new job in south London and the sale fell through because of the lack of an EWS1 form. There is another man in one of the other blocks who was about to sell so that he could be closer to his son and he has not been able to do that. Not only have they lost a lot of legal fees and the sale, there is the emotional trauma of not being able to move on with their lives and being trapped not only in an unsafe home but a home that you do not want to be in anymore because you have grown out of it.
Immediately, financially, for example, my mortgage rate has gone to a variable rate and so I am paying an extra £50 a month already. That is before we have even been charged through the service charge.
Impact-wise, it has had a massive toll on everybody’s mental health and anxiety. It has had a massive toll on our time and our resources and our mental and emotional reserves.
It is a melting pot, really. On the one hand, absolutely, this is about safety but, on the other hand, there is a very real impact on our finances. We do not know why the EWS1 form is being asked for by some lenders on buildings less than 18 metres. There are some buildings in our development that have not had an intrusive survey yet and so they do not have a waking watch even though they are exactly the same as the block that I am living in. It is lack of messaging, which is confusing. It is the financial uncertainty, which is very stressful, the inability to move on with our lives and also the worry about safety for our families. That is just the beginning of how much it is affecting us.
We have only really had this for about a about a month and I know that there are a lot of blocks throughout London and nationwide that have been dealing with this for a lot longer. The impact on tenants and leaseholders is insurmountable and something has to be done. We have had no action, really. We have had a bit of lip service from politicians. We have had some media interest. To take this down a legal route is going to be impossible because it is too expensive. We really need to know that there are going to be people who are going to take tangible and quick action. There is a Building Safety Bill going through Parliament but Parliament moves very slowly, whereas, as Amanda [Wilson] said, our freeholders are moving very quickly to start to load costs upon us. It is just knowing that we are not going to be held liable for this and knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It is that uncertainty that is having the biggest toll on everybody. Thank you.
Andrew Dismore AM (Chair): Amanda?
Amanda Wilson (London leaseholder): Thank you. I wanted to echo some of Charlotte’s [Daus] points there because they are things that are affecting us in our block as well.
From a mental health aspect, I know there are people in the group who are not sleeping because of this. It is having a huge impact. We have a lot of people who are nurses in the National Health Service (NHS) and so they are going in, dealing with COVID, coming home and having to spend time dealing with the time aspect of going through all the documents. We have had to look into the freeholders. We have had to look into Vantage, which is one of our freeholders. The developers we have had to look at to see if they potentially had a fault and it should go to them. There are so many things to look into, as well as reading through reports that we are not experts in.
We need to understand this EWS1 form and question it where possible because, for me, my ideal is that we do not need to have this work done. I do not want to live in a building that is unsafe but I do not want £15 million of work done when it does not need to be done in the first instance. I have been feeling that I could potentially lose my home because if they give me a £50,000 bill, I do not have that money. I am sure loads of people in the group do not have it, either. People do not have a spare £50,000. If they do pass these costs on, what happens? Are you going to put all these people on the streets? That is what is going to potentially come of this situation.
We have 100 people in the group of people that I am dealing with and we have all split tasks up between us. I have spent hours and hours researching everything to do with this, trying to understand it. People in the group have been great. We have all clumped together, but it feels very unclear. It feels like this EWS1 form is setting us up to fail, before they have checked if it is a reasonable thing to be doing, to rip walls off a building and to potentially get people to move out. It all sounds very questionable when we do not need a waking watch and we do not need any extra fire alarm systems put in place.
There are a few other points that I am going to come on to later in terms of conflicts of interest because we found out that the management company is set to profit off this and so do the people who do the fire report, but I will come on to that as part of the next section. I do want to raise so that people are aware of that as well.
Andrew Dismore AM (Chair): OK. Thank you. Samar?
Samar Radwan (Resident, Samuel Garside House): I guess it is pretty much the same. I am someone who struggled with depression for decades. Just three weeks before the fire took place, I finished a 12-session treatment and I went out of these sessions feeling like I am honestly on the right way and I will be able to continue to get even better. That was my therapist’s view also. Then the fire happened and I am back to square one. I have had to start taking sessions again a while after the fire. The mental effect is huge.
I know it is not just me. As the lady said, everyone got into this situation because of the fire and because the cladding was not properly up to the grade that it is supposed to be. We did not have a fire alarm. We had some kind of a system within the building that we did not even know existed or how it works until the fire took place. They explained it after the fire.
There is also the finances. My own flat I wanted to sell and I put it on the market just one week before the fire. Everything blew up in my face. I have now an offer and here we have the EWS1 and the stoppage of work at Samuel Garside House. There are just six flats fully cladded still with the wood – grade B, I think – and another one that is halfway done. No survey can be done for the buildings so as to issue the EWS1 form. Most probably, if the purchaser is watching, he would take back the offer. I am financially ruined. I cannot re-mortgage and most probably I will not be able to re-mortgage or afford a new mortgage. If I sell the flat to move into another place, I will not be able to get an affordable one because of my age. This is another problem for me, maybe. I have no affordable mortgage. I cannot re-mortgage.
As Amanda [Wilson] said, we have a group within Samuel Garside House who are trying to figure out and follow the law and communicate with the different parties concerned. It is so complicated and sometimes it takes so much of your time that it is affecting your health, affecting your mental health and affecting even your work life. I am with you today although I am supposed to be working, but I spoke to my manager and she was kind enough to say, “OK, you can take an hour off to have this meeting”. Frankly, we are being treated – as leaseholders or shareholders or whatever it is and even residents – like we count for nothing and as if we are just money machines for them. There is no consideration.
I was forced to come back to my flat while the balcony replacement work was going on with my balcony. People were out there in July and August . You all remember how hot it was at that time and I had to keep the doors closed all the time and my curtains drawn all the time. It was very hot and I was trying to work and trying to deal with everything going on. Even when I contacted HomeGround and the Adriatic Land 3 representative, I told them that I cannot take it. Mentally I could not cope with it anymore. They would not do anything. I asked them to provide me even a small place for eight hours to stay and work away from the noise and away from the impact of the noise on my mental health. They replied that they can do nothing.
Andrew Dismore AM (Chair): Ritu?
Ritu Saha (Leaseholder and founding member, UK Cladding Action Group): If I were to talk about the impact it has had on me, my life has been on hold for the last three years. I have not had a normal life like you would expect any normal law-abiding citizen to have.
In terms of the impact on my neighbours, most of us have been pushed to the brink of financial ruin as a result of these costs. At the same time we are living in an extremely dangerous building for the past 40 months. As a result of COVID, we are having to live in these homes 24 hours a day. Every time we look out of our window all we see is cladding. There is no getting away from the problem that is causing this huge anxiety. The toll that that will have on the mental health of any normal functioning human being cannot be put into words.
In order to try to save money, one of my neighbours, who is retired, did a waking watch herself from midnight until 7.00am three days a week for months in our building. She patrolled our building for seven hours throughout the night to keep us safe and so that we could save some waking watch costs. I used to do waking watch myself. I worked full time. I could run back home. From 7.00pm in the evening until midnight I would do waking watch on weekdays to try to save costs so that we all do not go bankrupt.
You asked about the impact this has on residents across the country and Londoners. UKCAG did a mental health survey in March of this year and 550 people responded to the survey. I want to touch on a few quick statistics there. We also validated the survey with a post-budget follow-up questionnaire after the £1 billion Building Safety Fund was announced. The report showed that 9 out of 10 people said that their mental health had deteriorated as a direct result of the situation in their building. 23% of respondents reported having suicidal feelings or thoughts of self-harm, 94% of people felt anxiety and worry and 67% percent had feelings of hopelessness. The reason for this is that the anxiety of living in a dangerous building and the stress of expecting a life-changing bill to land on your doorstep at any moment like writing a blank cheque is just overwhelming. We are being punished. We are being held legally and financially responsible for fixing a problem that we did not create.
It is even more stressful because there is no way out of it. Leasehold law has made us responsible for a failure both of regulation and of the development industry. We are the victims of the scandal but we are being treated like the criminals. We are being held both mentally and financially to ransom. If we do not pay these huge bills for waking watches, for insurance and then for remediation, we can lose our home via lease forfeiture. Bankruptcy and homelessness are the real prospects that are facing each and every Londoner who is living in one of these buildings every day. We do not have the means to solve this problem because we did not create it. Only the Government can do that.
I have a statistic. I was reading yesterday that the average length of a prison sentence for all offences in England and Wales is 18 months as of 2019. Londoners are being trapped in their flats for far longer than this. We are being told that getting an EWS1 form is going to take five to 10 years. We are not seeing ACM cladding removed for 40 months after Grenfell. People who have done nothing wrong are suffering longer sentences than actual criminals. The toll on our mental health is huge. It cannot be put into words. Thank you.
Andrew Dismore AM (Chair): Thank you. Samar?
Samar Radwan (Resident, Samuel Garside House): Yes, thank you. I just wanted to add something about the service charge. From the beginning, there were assurances in writing from the managing company, Residential Management Group, that residents will not be footing the bill for any remedial work because of the fire. They made assurances also to Dame Margaret Hodge, the area’s Member of Parliament (MP).
With the service charge, now what is happening because of this dispute, as it seems – I am not sure – is that we received a letter from the Southern Housing Association. After getting all these assurances in writing, they want the expenses to be loaded in the service charge for leaseholders to pay. This is absolutely unfair and, even more, [we believe potentially] it is illegal. We have it in writing. They assured us. We have it on tape, filmed when we had one meeting on 13 June 2019 with all the parties concerned and a representative from the Housing and Communities Minister and a bunch of people who have to do our legal bits. This is also adding to our worries because all of a sudden Southern Housing, which agreed with Bellway, as the letter we have states, to pay for all the expenses for the remedial work at Samuel Garside, is trying to get out of that deal and load it on the leaseholders. I know Southern Housing is a leaseholder itself because it has flats that it rents to council tenants, but still it is not fair, if it had agreed to that kind of agreement, to come and ask individual leaseholders to foot the bill for such a huge project.
The financial dispute between Bellway Homes and Southern Housing is about money. I was told by Bellway’s site manager that Southern Housing stopped paying any money into the remedial work six months ago and so they stopped working. Even worse, the contractor who is doing the work, by 16 October , in two days’ time, will leave the site totally because they have other jobs contracted to do.
We are in a total mess and we do not know how to get out of it and for how long this dispute is going to drag on and make us lose more in every way, in our daily life and work, mentally and financially. It is unacceptable. It is absolutely unacceptable in a country like the United Kingdom (UK) for something like that to be happening to hard-working, decent, taxpaying citizens. It is not fair.
Andrew Dismore AM (Chair): OK. Assembly Member Kurten?
David Kurten AM: Thank you. I will start with Ritu again because you have set up the UKCAG. I know you have said something already about some of the findings that you have made into how this is affecting leaseholders and tenants, but I wonder if there is anything more that you want to add to what you have said already about that.
Ritu Saha (Leaseholder and founding member, UK Cladding Action Group): One of the things is that the reason we are having this discussion is partly to talk about the impact this is having but also how we can move forward and how we can help Londoners. What I did want to mention is that this Saturday [10 October 2020] was a World Mental Health Day and we asked leaseholders to talk about how the situation was still affecting them. If you have been on social media you will see some of the presentations that they made. The responses show that the toll that this is having on people’s lives is absolutely unthinkable.
What we are saying is that at the moment there is nothing to help leaseholders with mental health issues who are struggling as a result of living in these flats. The Mayor of London could step in because there is a void to fill over there. At the moment, when people find out about the situation, they feel completely confused, helpless and hopeless. They do not know where to turn. All they can turn to are volunteer groups like ours, like UKCAG and like the charity Leasehold Knowledge Partnership. There is literally no other support for them. We are volunteers. We do think that the Mayor should step in and should put in place a programme of specific mental health support, perhaps with organisations that have form in this area such as MIND, the Samaritans, et cetera, to direct resources to help Londoners who are struggling with this.
This is going to be a long-term issue. It is not going to get solved quickly. We need to take care of our residents and their mental health. We think there is a good opportunity for the Mayor of London to step in and help in this area.
David Kurten AM: Thank you. I will ask everyone else what they think about that because the Mayor of London has limited powers in this area. For him to offer mental health support and legal advice might be quite helpful. What does everyone else think about that? What would be helpful for the Mayor of London to do in that area? Perhaps, Charlotte, you could come in on that as well.
Charlotte Daus (London leaseholder): Yes, it is a really good point and it is a massive point about needing support for mental health. It is hard to access mental health support at the best of times. Having some kind of conduit to enable us to access bespoke support in that way would be great.
You mentioned, David [Kurten}, about legal advice and legal support. That would be really helpful because, when action groups around our area have looked into getting legal advice, it has been incredibly expensive and it puts you off. The only options we have are media or political lobbying. Again, we are not politicians. We do not have many links in the media. We are going to voluntary groups to get support. As I said, we are all laypeople here. Our residents often say, “We have to take them to court”, but (a) it is expensive and (b) where do we start?
I know you mentioned that the Mayor is fairly limited in what he can do but the main thing is that, yes, we need help and support with our mental health but why are we suffering this anxiety and these mental health issues? The reason we are suffering is because it is a scandal that is not being resolved and we are potentially looking at losing our homes and being bankrupted. We need to have reassurance that that is going to stop. We need reassurance that politicians of all stripes are going to lobby the Government and lobby the developers and the housing associations to make sure that we do not have to pay for this. The funding available needs to be widened. If we have 3 million leaseholders nationwide potentially with homes that are worthless, how does that help the economy? We want to know what the avenues are for us. As you said, having legal support is really helpful to have that expert support that is dedicated to pressing the issue and making sure it is resolved. I do not want to be sitting here having these conversations one year, two years, three years down the line and having been bankrupted in the meantime.
I know there is a Building Safety Bill going through Parliament at the moment. It is 300 pages. Again, we are laypeople and so deciphering that is difficult. There is a section in it that says leaseholders will need to pay the freeholder within 28 days for remedial work. That is legislating to put us at a financial loss.
Yes, we do need support with the anxiety and the symptoms of that, but we also need really dedicated expert support about how we can bring this forward. We are trying to get our MPs to sign up to the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign, for example, but doing that from our own resources, which are very little, it is difficult. If we did have the Mayor’s office behind us as saying, “Here is an avenue of support you could try. We will write to X and we will set up this meeting”, that would be absolutely fantastic.
David Kurten AM: Thank you. How about Amanda? Do you have anything to add on that point?
Amanda Wilson (London leaseholder): Yes. Those were some really good points from Charlotte. I wanted to add on that the EWS1 process needs a review. One of the things that they test on the EWS1 form is the materials in a 100% oxygen environment. That is not a fair test to tell whether something is combustible or not. For me, it needs a complete overhaul. Some of these buildings are failing when they do not need to, which is going to cost the Government money and it is going to cost leaseholders money. You are looking at billions of pounds of work here when some of it potentially does not need doing. That would be my first point.
My other point that I would add on is addressing the banks. They are blocking all of us doing anything with our lives at the moment. There needs to be some kind of underwriting for them or something that means that you are not stopping 3 million people from taking some actions, moving on with their lives, moving into their family home, moving in with their partners and doing whatever they need to do with their lives, which has all been stopped because the banks will not even allow us to re-mortgage on our properties. If these costs fall on me, all my money is in my property. How am I meant to get the money together to do the work when all of my cash equity sits in my property? They could look at the banks.
They could increase their funding grant if they want this work done. This regulation came in after we all bought our properties. Therefore, surely the work has to be paid for by the person wanting the regulation change or the freeholders or the developers because they put this building together. The freeholder owns our building, not the leaseholders. We just lease it from them. There needs to be some accountability. Who is the person that pays for this?
I do not feel the leaseholders should have any accountability in this. We bought this property in good faith and at the time it did fit the 2016 building regulations because I have seen our report. There has since been a further change, which has now meant that whatever passed in 2016 does not pass in 2018. For me, that is an unfair addition to the legislation.
I agree that it completely has to be a safe building but surely we need to make sure that these buildings are unsafe. For me, when I read that fire report – and I am a layperson – I felt that a 100% oxygen environment was not a fair test to test honeycomb panelling to see if it set on fire. That definitely needs to be looked at.
Then who is responsible if there are remedial works? It really needs to be clear. Is it the freeholder? Is it the developer? Is it the leaseholder we need to know who is the person paying for this work and then how they will manage to pay for that work?
David Kurten AM: I have a background in chemistry and so, when you said that the tests are done in 100% oxygen or that that is the standard, that really does not make much sense to me at all. That is completely unreal. In real life you have 21% oxygen. I really have no idea where that came from. That is certainly something that we will need to look into in terms of science if the science behind this is wrong. We know that ACM can combust because we have seen that in the Grenfell Tower tragedy, but if we have other kinds of cladding that do not combust at 21% oxygen, then I would postulate that there is no point in replacing them if there is no danger in 21% oxygen. That is really something to look into. Thanks for that point.
Amanda Wilson (London leaseholder): Definitely. I wanted to say one more point as well, David. The person carrying out the fire report wins 10% of the tender. Our costs are £15 million. The company that carried out the fire report, Thomasons, stands to benefit majorly financially from the fact that we failed the report and then it gets to do the remedial works. The management company gets 4%. There is huge conflict of interest. The person who carries out this report also gets 10% of whoever they contract that remedial work out to. That is a massive alarm bell for me. I wrote to the management company expressing my extreme concerns about the fact that the person who carried out this report then has any financial gain from the fact that we failed the report. That needs to be addressed.
David Kurten AM: Yes, absolutely. It should be simply about safety not about financial gains for certain people.
Andrew Dismore AM (Chair): David, we are running out of time for this session now. Alison had a short point to bring out and then we will have to move on. Is that OK?
David Kurten AM: Yes.
Andrew Dismore AM (Chair): Alison?
Dr Alison Moore AM: Thanks. I had originally been going to ask about the issues around building costs and the impact on your lives. You have all shared individually and collectively a whole range of reflections on that. Thank you for that.
Could I just finish up by asking from each of you what the best action the Government could take to support you? Maybe we will start with Ritu and going back down the table.
Ritu Saha (Leaseholder and founding member, UK Cladding Action Group): Sure. Very quickly on the Government’s actions, we have laid out a 10-step plan of what it can do in the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign aims. Immediately the first thing is to understand that the issue is about safety. Make buildings safe first and talk about who pays later. Then go after developers, warranty providers, et cetera, to recoup the funds. Also, put a levy on new developments and developer profits to recoup some of this money, but understand that this will need more money to fix. Sort out the EWS1 issues via a more standardised risk-based approach rather than a blanket one-size-fits-all approach and the 10-step plan.
I also wanted to quickly touch on some things that the Mayor’s office can do. I spoke about the mental health aspect but, to go back to Charlotte’s [Daus] point, the Mayor can take a much more vocal and visible role in pressing the Government to make the buildings in London safe at no cost to innocent leaseholders who did nothing to make them unsafe in the first place. Mayors in other cities have made this a priority. We want to see this Mayor’s office make this one of his top three things that he is talking about every week. He can go in front of the camera or he can take out adverts to make Londoners aware that some of them are sitting on top of a ticking timebomb. We need him to come out more publicly in support of us and raise this issue at every opportunity.
Also, the Mayor has certain avenues that he can consider. One of them is naming and shaming developers. All across London there are thousands of buildings being built by the same developers who built our blocks and are now getting off scot-free without paying to make them safe. While the Mayor may not be able to stop those developers from building new buildings, he can stand up and call out those developers publicly and name and shame them. That would have a real impact. Where the Mayor has the power to give or withhold planning permission, he should go after those developers that have built dangerous buildings and use all the powers at his disposal to stop them from building more dangerous buildings. It is only when developers’ bottom lines are hurt that they are going to turn around and say, “Maybe we should go back and fix those really unsafe buildings that we built”.
Also, you are going to be speaking to Fiona Twycross, Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience, and we would like her to take a leading role in looking at the inconsistencies around waking watches in buildings in London. She should be working with fire brigades in London, looking at all buildings, making sure that interim measures are applied consistently and making sure that people are not saddled with hugely expensive interim measures where they are not required. She should be taking a leading role in this to co-ordinate this approach.
The Mayor’s office and the Greater London Authority (GLA) can help with meaningful data gathering not just of buildings over 18 metres but buildings above 11 metres that may have fire safety defects and creating a repository so that we can understand the extent of the problem. These are all things that the Mayor’s office can do.
You will also hear from Megan Life [Head of Building Safety, Greater London Authority] later on. The GLA is co-ordinating the disbursement of both the ACM [Fund] and the Building Safety Fund. Huge lessons have been learned from the disbursement of the ACM Fund as to how the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the GLA can do better and avoid some of the issues that were faced when creating and disbursing the ACM Fund. We would expect the GLA to be more public about the failings and the lessons learned and what can be improved with the Building Safety Fund and work to implement those changes. Those are the things we think the Mayor’s office can do. Thank you.
Andrew Dismore AM (Chair): OK. We are running out of time and so keep your answers brief, please. We are a bit over time already. Samar wants to come in.
Samar Radwan (Resident, Samuel Garside House): I am not going to repeat what has just been said. I am just going to say that I second everything that the ladies mentioned about the need for the legal help and for mental health support.
As for the Government, the main thing that the Government needs to make sure of is to get this conflict of interest out of the playground because most of the people who are building or freeholders are also so much into the Government and Parliament. The legislation there is being drawn for certain people, for the elite and for the rich but not for laypeople like ourselves who are working to pay their mortgage and pay their tax and whatever. As to the responsibility, it is not the leaseholders’ or the residents’ or anyone’s responsibility except the developer and the freeholder. When it comes to any remedial work, why should residents, whether leaseholders or tenants, take the responsibility of paying for remedial work for a design they approved, the council approved and the planning office approved? There is a whole bunch of people and the design went in front of them and they discussed it and worked on it and then in the end they approved it. Even the National House Building Council (NHBC) would give them a certificate. Why is the NHBC not being held responsible? Why should the ordinary citizen, who does not have the means to put toward any remedial work and had no say whatsoever in the design and how things were done in the first place, have to pay?
Dr Alison Moore AM: Thank you very much, Samar. That was very helpful. Amanda [Wilson] and Charlotte, very briefly, you have both said quite a bit about the Government in your earlier remarks. Is there anything particularly you would want to add in winding up this section?
Charlotte Daus (London leaseholder): To back up everything Ritu [Saha] said, that was really good. The End Our Cladding Scandal campaign has 10 steps. It is really worthwhile signing up to. Lobbying has to go beyond just writing letters and asking questions. It is calling meetings with people, as you say, and also shaming developers. Countryside, for example, which developed our development, is advertising new flats all over London. It is not fair that it should still be profitable when we are being pulled to the wall.
It is also worth adding that when Amanda was talking about the inspection and the results of the intrusive survey, because we are a freeholder of a housing association, we do not get access to that kind of information. Housing associations are not subject to freedom of information because they are altruistic organisations and so it is sensitive, potentially. There is a huge lack of transparency that we cannot get to the bottom of unless we pay thousands of pounds on legal fees to subpoena it. That needs to be tackled head-on by the Government.
It is a question of remaining really vocal. If the Mayor can remain vocal and, as you say, Ritu, makes it one of his top three priorities especially going into the elections next year, it would really help. I would direct people to the End Our Cladding Scandal 10 steps as well because they are really positive and set out really clearly what we need from the Government.
Dr Alison Moore AM: Thank you very much. Amanda, and then I will hand back to the Chair.
Amanda Wilson (London leaseholder): I will be very brief here because I know we are running out of time but I just wanted to summarise. Firstly, I would really like a reform of the EWS1 process to make sure that buildings are getting works done when they require it and not when it is not needed. This is going to cost the taxpayer and the Government billions and so we need to think carefully about what we are doing remedial works on.
They need to increase the funding and into the budget because it is not even going to touch the sides of how many Londoners need remedial works. We need to remove any conflict of interest with the management companies standing to gain financially huge sums of money out of this and also the fire reporters. There should be no financial benefit whatsoever to these people. Then who is responsible for the remediation costs?
Just addressing the banks, we should still be able to sell and re-mortgage once we know what is going on with these properties. The banks need some way of lifting the current blanket rule they have applied to the 3 million people out there who are currently completely trapped in their homes and unable to move or go forward. There should be some way of allowing us to carry on with our lives and sell or re-mortgage and release equity from our properties. That would be my answer.
Dr Alison Moore AM: Thank you very much and thank you, all four of you, from me and I am sure the Chair will say it from the Committee. Thank you for all of the information and the passion you have shown today. I will hand back to Andrew as Chair.
Andrew Dismore AM (Chair): Thank you, Alison, and thank you to our guests for your contributions and sharing your experiences with the Committee.
We will now have a short adjournment while we swap the panels over. You are welcome to continue to watch the rest of the meeting, which will go on for the rest of the morning, if you would like to do that. Thank you very much for participating this morning. We will have a short adjournment.
 Clarified by Samar Radwan following the meeting: Even when I contacted Home Ground and the Adriatic Land 3 representative through the managing company RMG.