Putney MP Fleur Anderson has called for urgent action to address the borough’s building safety crisis as the number of properties impacted continues to increase.
In an open letter, Anderson expressed frustration at the lack of progress in addressing the rise of unsafe buildings, with close to 30 defective blocks identified in Putney alone.
Criticising the government for its lack of swift action more than five years after the Grenfell fire, the MP has also urged developers and property managers to take more responsibility.
She wrote: “For nearly three years now I have spoken with and heard from hundreds of desperate and fearful residents trapped in unsafe homes and facing financial oblivion through absolutely no fault of their own.
“I know that they represent thousands more people who feel unsafe in their homes, are unable to move house and are in despair because they still can’t see when this will end.
“This crisis affects family life, employment opportunities, is putting people into debts and affecting their mental and physical health.”
Anderson’s comments come as figures obtained by London Assembly Labour in July revealed that 305 of the 1,099 buildings that have seen ‘stay put’ evacuation strategies suspended were categorised by the London Fire Brigade as having other fire safety issues.
According to a 2021 analysis from the New Build Database, a national record of issues that affect homeowners, as many as 4.6 million properties could be impacted by the cladding crisis sweeping across the UK.
Speaking to SWL, Anderson added: “I’ve felt angry and really frustrated on the part of people whose lives are still on hold, and angered by the extreme stress they suffer because they don’t know whether buildings are safe.
“It’s extremely stressful and shocking, and there are many people who’ve told me they’ve felt suicidal and that’s really no exaggeration of the extent of the distress this situation is causing.
“People have made huge life decisions or put their lives on hold as a result of this which has been compounded by a real lack of communication from property managers.”
In an adjournment debate granted earlier this year to discuss the cladding crisis, Anderson recounted the experiences of numerous individuals who got in touch to describe their ordeal.
One constituent said: “I’ve been diagnosed with stress-induced epilepsy and I’m now on medication for the next five years as a minimum.
“I’m at risk of being declared bankrupt, and this may mean I am jobless.”
Last year, Anderson met with then Minister for Building Safety, Lord Greenhalgh, along with representatives from four housing blocks in Putney impacted by unsafe cladding, to discuss individual issues and the cladding crisis as a whole.
Among a number of measures introduced to tackle the ‘cladding crisis’, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities introduced the Building Safety Fund to finance the redevelopment of unsafe cladding on residential buildings over 18 meters high.
However, concerns have been raised about the speed with which funds have been deployed, with only 50 of 1,995 eligible buildings having work completed in the last two years.
Anderson has consistently called for cast-iron legal protections for leaseholders from the costs of historic cladding defects to be enshrined into law.
Along with other MPs and campaign groups, she was instrumental in lobbying the government for the introduction of this year’s Building Safety Act which now ensures landlords are more robustly held to account.
She has also urged residents not to pay outstanding charges for historical building safety costs, warning that any landlord or property agent seeking to enforce them could be committing a criminal offence.
She added: “It has been a mass abdication of responsibility and basic competence that leaves leaseholds feeling powerless and having to spend huge energy on getting answers and trying to get solutions. It doesn’t have to be this way.
“This is a matter of basic justice and humanity. I will not stand idly by and watch more lives in my constituency be ruined by a scandal not of their own making.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “It is unacceptable that there are still building owners and developers who are yet to make homes safe.
“We will shortly be turning developer pledges into legally binding contracts, making sure they deliver on the commitments made.
“We continue to accelerate the work of the Building Safety Fund, which is now open for new applications, to speed up the remediation of the country’s most at-risk buildings.”
Featured image credit: Dr Strauss under CC BY-SA 4.0