Vista Tower resident welcomes cladding funds but 'still more to be done'

Cladding and fire safety campaigner from Stevenage, Sophie Bichener, has been in talks with MP Stephen McPartland 

Cladding and fire safety campaigner from Stevenage, Sophie Bichener, has been in talks with MP Stephen McPartland - Credit: Courtesy of Sophie Bichener

A Stevenage cladding campaigner has welcomed the news that developers will be forced to fix the national cladding scandal, but says there's still a long road ahead.

It was announced on Monday by Secretary of State of levelling up, Michael Gove, that developers must pay to fix the cladding crisis that they caused, in an overhaul of the government’s approach to building safety.

Sophie Bichener, who lives in Stevenage's Vista Tower, spoke at the leaseholders rally in Parliament

Sophie Bichener, who lives in Stevenage's Vista Tower, spoke at the leaseholders rally in Parliament Square - Credit: Courtesy of Sophie Bichener

Vista Tower resident Sophie Bichener said: "It's a good step - it's been four and a half years since Grenfell and we're finally getting somewhere - but it doesn't go far enough.

"The solution covers cladding, but a lot of buildings that have missing fire breaks and fire doors - all of that stuff will still be for leaseholders to pay."

Sophie added that there are concerns help may not be extended to leaseholders who have had to rent their properties, and the amount of buildings owned by shell companies.

"Michael Gove said we can follow the chain and find out who is responsible.

"In Vista Tower in particular, it's a long and twisted chain that will probably lead to nothing. You can't speak to a human - I don't know how on earth so many buildings are owned by shell companies which can be closed down at any moment and they can just walk away.

"Some might be frozen out of receiving help and those people are some times in the most desperate situations. They haven't been able to sell and might have had to flee domestic abuse or can't afford the costs, so have become landlords through no other choice. 

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"There is still lots that needs to be clarified, and while it's being clarified it's still leaseholders that are suffering. Insurance costs have hiked 3,000 per cent in some cases and we're still paying for waking watch and everything else.

"We know it's going to be a long road - we are very grateful to have been a part of meetings with Michael Gove and other MPs."

MP for Stevenage Stephen McPartland has been working with Sophie and other leaseholders.

He took to Twitter and said: "It is imperative that leaseholders are protected in law and I expect to see government amendments to the Building Safety Bill making it clear that leaseholders are protected from these costs.

"Cladding is an external fire safety defect, so I also need clarification that internal defects which developers are responsible for, such as missing firebreaks will also be remediated at no cost to leaseholders.

"Overall, it is an amazing step forward for leaseholders and we must welcome this as we work together to make our buildings safe."

Developers have been given a deadline of early March to agree a fully funded plan of action, including remediating unsafe cladding on 11-18 metre buildings, currently estimated to be £4 billion.