Because of the pandemic, since Christmas I have been driving down to London when I have had to be present in Westminster, rather than taking the train which I prefer.
My route into London along the A40 takes me past Grenfell Tower, which still stands shrouded in industrial coverings. Even in its current state, it strikes horror and dismay into the heart of anyone passing. A symbol of so much that is wrong.
Because there is a public inquiry underway I will not refer to Grenfell specifically. But the implications reach well beyond London and into Chester.
Part of the problem at Grenfell was that the cladding around the building was highly flammable and conducted the fire outside the building. The inquiry will examine scandalous allegations that the cladding firm knew beforehand that its cladding was flammable but said nothing.
I am pleased to say that immediately after the fire, Cheshire Fire Brigade and the leading social housing providers audited the high rise buildings in our area for safety.
And understandably the government has marked the high-rise building for immediate attention.
But there are plenty of other buildings in Chester and across the country that have cladding on them which may be considered suspect. These fall into the low- and medium-rise categories. I won’t identify them as it is private to the residents. But these residents bought their properties in good faith and now can’t sell them off.
Either the cost of removing the cladding is too great, or potential purchasers are put off by the risk, by the costs, and by the fact insurance companies will not provide cover.
Meanwhile for the most part, the original developers are nowhere to be seen (with one exception, a well-known local firm which has engaged well with me, and shown they want to help find a solution: again I can’t identify them yet.)
There are two solutions. First, there is clearly a role for government in tackling a national scandal by providing support to leaseholders who, through no fault of their own, are stuck in homes they can’t sell. But not enough money is available and it doesn’t yet cover low and medium rise building like those affected in Chester.
Second, the law must be changed to make developers responsible for their work and not able to walk away.
And in addition, if anyone is found to have covered up the use of unsafe building material, they must be dealt with by the criminal law.
Our home is the place we should always feel safe. The cladding scandal needs to end and the government must act to protect homeowners.