The Times recently reported that over 3 million people have been affected by what has become known as the ‘cladding scandal’. William Martin, a junior doctor and co-founder of the UK Cladding Action Group is one of them. After the devastating fire at Grenfell tower in 2017, it quickly became apparent that a huge number of leaseholders lived in properties that had similar ‘ACM’ cladding, which is now understood, accelerated the fire that killed 72 people. The necessary removal of the cladding and other remediation work has become a ‘nightmare’ for leaseholders. In this episode of The Justice Gap Podcast, William spoke to Calum McCrae about the paralysing effect this scandal has had on his life, the campaign he has set up to fight back and the Government’s response.
As a junior doctor, William Martin, saved and scraped the barrel to afford a flat in Sheffield City Centre. He was ‘made up’, ‘excited’ and ‘delighted’. But what was a huge step in his life, as for many others, quickly became a nightmare months after Grenfell.
The ACM cladding, which was in large part to blame for the speed at which the fire in Grenfell spread, was on his building. The fear of his building catching fire kept him awake at night: ‘the strain of that was part and parcel of why, for my own mental health I had to leave that place’.
Years of regulatory failure and bad construction have been blamed for leaving an estimated 1.3 million leaseholders living in dangerous buildings. The necessary repair and remediation bills have been paralysing.
‘If you’ve got a potential bill of £50,000 over your head, you can’t justify getting a takeout. You can’t justify going on holiday,’ William told The Justice Gap Podcast. ‘All of the things I wanted to do with my life were on hold.’
William Martin and Calum McCrae in discussion
Feeling alone and powerless, he reached out. After launching the UK Cladding Action Group with two other leaseholders, William discovered the scale of the scandal: ‘We had this barrage of emails telling us they were in this situation too.’ The campaign, End Our Cladding Scandal, now attends major meetings with key figures such as Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick.
And the Government has responded. Firstly, they pledged a £5.1 billion fund to go towards the repairs. And then, last week, they introduced the Building Safety Bill, which seeks to ‘give residents and homeowners more rights, powers and protections’.
But despite the money pledged, leaseholders are still having to pay for the cladding removal if they live in a building under 18m, ‘an arbitrary number’, William argues. And leaseholders in all properties still face other remedial costs that are unaffordable, such as insurance increases, ‘Waking Watch’ and other building defects.
And William asserts that aspects of the Building Safety Bill are not ‘worth the paper they’re written on’ because it changes nothing and in places is ‘unworkable’.
‘Ultimately, what this will lead to, is cities full of these buildings which cannot be sold’.
William Martin, UK Cladding Action Group
Listen to the entire conversation above, or wherever you get your podcasts.