The Polluter Pays Bill has been developed by residents to offer a mechanism that will make property developers pay to fix unsafe housing they developed. Image: Reece Lipman
Residents hit by the cladding crisis will head to a swimming pool suspended between two London skyscrapers this weekend to protest against the crippling bills they are facing to fix their homes.
The clear-bottomed “sky pool”, which is positioned 35 metres above ground at Embassy Gardens in Nine Elms, south-west London, went viral in June after footage showed swimmers enjoying the sun.
But to angry leaseholders who are facing bills of thousands of pounds to remove flammable cladding and fix fire safety defects in their homes, the architectural marvel, built by developer Ballymore, has become a symbol of the inequality of the UK’s housing crisis. The pool is reportedly not available for use for all residents with affordable housing residents locked out, according to Inside Housing.
That’s why leaseholders will converge on the Sky Pool on August 21 at the Action for Fire Safety Justice protest to voice their anger over bills that threaten to push them into poverty or even homelessness.
I see the sky-pool in my ward is trending. So a good opportunity to talk about Nine Elms and the role Wandsworth Tory Council and the then Mayor, Boris Johnson, played in shaping this part of London/ (thread) pic.twitter.com/O2tFeZjARr
Jane Randle will be travelling from Basildon, Essex, to attend the protest against what she described as an “elitist experiment” in a bid to draw attention to her own mounting fire safety bills.
The 56-year-old told The Big Issue: “Ballymore left thousands of families in unsafe homes that can go up in flames, but they go and build a blooming pool instead.
“Not everybody that even lives in those buildings can actually use it. It’s quite an elitist experiment that’s going on there which is shocking.
“If that’s the sort of world we want in this country, that’s shocking in itself. But for me personally, as shocking as that is, it’s just another testament to how the government needs to get into the real world and needs to start listening to changing these building regulations.”
A spokesperson for Ballymore said: “Like many developers, Ballymore is hugely conscious of leaseholder anxiety surrounding cladding replacement at developments across the UK. Leaseholders bought properties in good faith, just as we built properties in good faith and in full accordance with building regulations at the time of construction”.
“Ballymore is working quickly to carry out cladding remedial works across our portfolio. Works currently underway at New Providence Wharf Building A and at Embassy Gardens will be completed promptly and at zero cost to leaseholders”.
Randle told The Big Issue she is waiting to see the size of the bill she is facing individually to remove flammable cladding at the 11-storey Morello Quarter. She has been quoted £2.7 million for remediation works to be spread among leaseholders living in the 450 flats at the building.
As the property is under 18 metres in height, residents are required to pick up the bill to remove the cladding. There will be further costs on top to fix other fire safety defects at the property.
The prospect of paying for the works became even more daunting during the Covid-19 pandemic after Randle lost her job as an executive coach as firms cut costs to survive.
Unable to sell the property, Randle has been forced to change her retirement plans as she lives with the pressure of waiting for the day she must pay for the work.
A spokesperson for Weston Homes, who built Morello Quarter, previously said: “Whilst Weston Homes understands the individual owners’ frustration, this is an industry-wide issue which is repeated across the country. These properties were constructed to the standards required at the time to achieve building control and structural warranty sign off.”
The situation is why Randle is joining protesters at the Sky Pool and why she is calling on the UK government to take up leaseholders’ suggestion of a Polluter Pays Bill (PPB).
The draft legislation, drawn up by another leaseholder hit by the crisis, Steve Day, and his fellow residents in Royal Artillery Quays in Woolwich, London, is inspired by existing laws that allow the government to pursue firms who contaminate land to force them to cover the costs of fixing it.
Lord Stephen Greenhalgh, minister for building safety, told the House of Lords earlier this year the government was looking at the PPB “very carefully” to “see whether it could further enhance the proposed Building Safety Bill”.
“I bought the property thinking I’m going to have something to fall back on in retirement and I’ll be able to sell, get a little something and still carry on with my retirement plans,” said Randle. “That’s going out of the window, there’s no way I can sell this property. So desperately waiting to hear if there’s going to be some help.
“I’m sitting here waiting to be told what the bill is just so that I can say: “Well, I can’t afford that either”. I really don’t know what I’m going to do when that bill comes through. We’re in this black hole, we can’t move forward, we’re completely trapped. And where are we trapped? We’re trapped in a tinderbox.”
Randle added that the PPB is “the answer” and “It will save so many people’s lives”.
March to the Quays is a chance for our residents to have their voices heard and let the public know that this nightmare is far from over for themRebecca Fairclough, co-leader of Manchester Cladiators
Rebecca Fairclough, co-leader of Manchester Cladiators
Fellow protestor Deepa Mistry, 41, told The Big Issue she will be travelling to the protest from Southwark where she too will be making the case for the Polluter Pays Bill.
“It’s come down to the point where we have to protest, protest, protest,” said Mistry, who lives at Success House under shared ownership. “It has come down to this.
“I’m trying to push the Polluter Pays Bill into the public eye and want to support Action for Fire Safety Justice.”
Meanwhile, residents in Manchester are also taking to the street in Salford Quays in a march to draw attention to the same cause.
Manchester Cladiators, a voluntary group formed by residents in early 2019, is leading the march which will see Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey speak at the demonstration.
Rebecca Fairclough, co-leader of Manchester Cladiators, said: “The government is still not doing anywhere near enough to finally bring an end to this living nightmare. March to the Quays is a chance for our residents to have their voices heard and let the public know that this nightmare is far from over for them.”
The UK government has committed to a £5.5bn Building Safety Fund to cover the removal of cladding on buildings over 18 metres in height. Last month housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced EWS1 safety forms would not be needed for homes under 18 metres, paving the way for some leaseholders to potentially sell their homes, though the move is subject to backing from lenders.
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