'A huge crisis' - emotional leaseholders protest as cladding scandal continues
- Credit: Courtesy of Sophie Bichener
Leaseholders took to Stevenage's Town Square at the weekend for an emotional protest as the cladding scandal in a number of flat blocks rumbles on.
Organised by Herts Cladiators, many leaseholders were in tears at the demonstration - as the stress and expense of living in a building with unsafe cladding continues to take its toll.
Sophie Bichener - who set up the Cladiators group - lives in Vista Tower in Stevenage's Southgate Road, and has been campaigning to raise awareness of her and her neighbours' plight.
"Saturday's demonstration went really well - we had some support from those impacted as well as those who were in the town who were showing an interest.
"It was to raise awareness for other leaseholders, and to support each other. We had mums of leaseholders and children of leaseholders with lots of people sharing their stories."
Sophie said emotions were running high for so many who are unable sell and move on, due to their flats being unsafe. Some told stories of being pregnant, having young children, or a relationship breakdown.
"There's only so long you can fight and keep going," she continued. "We are supportive of each other - everyone's working from home so you're in the building and thinking about it 24/7.
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"It's so obvious that this is a huge crisis, people are reaching out to their GPs for help, people worried about going bankrupt and losing their jobs. People have visions for themselves and their children, which have been turned upside down because you don't know when you will get the next bill.
"Since the last article, there hasn't been much change. We're still paying £600 a month for a waking watch. That makes the building safe to live in - which is good.
"We haven't got any information on how much it will cost leaseholders - it seems around 60 per cent of the cost. For our building, it's estimated around £10 million."
The government have said that leaseholders would not having to worry about historic fire safety defects, and they should pay £50 per month maximum - with developers of the buildings picking up the bill.
Sophie says, however, that in many cases - including the case of Vista Tower - the developers no longer exist.
"There's no way for us to approach them about this", the 29-year-old said.
"We don't want people to be in the same situation as us, we don't want them to fall into the same trap. We will get to a point where more and more buildings are impacted.
"Leaseholders have done nothing wrong. I did every single check I could, paid the solicitors to do checks. Everything was in order. Everyone should know, even if you do everything you can, you can't be too sure. Regulations can change."
MP Stephen McPartland has been supporting Vista Tower leaseholders, and attended Saturday's demonstration.
He told the Comet: “I was proud to lead the campaign in Parliament to protect leaseholders from these unfair costs and will continue to stand alongside them until we have won.
"Leaseholders are the innocent parties, and the protest is a powerful reminder that we will not go away, we will not be quiet, we will continue to campaign for those responsible to pay.
"I believe the government has to step in and provide a safety net for leaseholders and then recoup the money from levies on those responsible, including the developers."