Whilst the full implications of the Grenfell tragedy will have to wait until the inquiry concludes the consequences are already apparent for thousands of our fellow citizens.
The inquiry and subsequent investigations have shone a harsh light on the building industry and the responsibility of public agencies, including local councils, to regulate it. Thousands of homes have been found to have fire risks which require remedial work amounting to potentially billions of pounds. Thanks to the archaic system of freehold the cost of this seems to be passed on to leaseholders who bought their properties in good faith.
This hidden housing scandal has a specific human face in that many of those affected are young people who have bought their first homes in our cities through the seductive messages of shared ownership and Help to Buy actively promoted by developers and housing associations. As a catalogue of huge building defects come to light, it is apparent that these hard-working people are facing potentially huge bills and have been let down by all levels of the state.
As is evident in a number of other areas, the hapless Robert Jenrick has contrived to make a bad situation catastrophic. The requirement for owners of flats above 18 metres to obtain an External Wall Safety Form (when there are barely 300 qualified inspectors) has resulted in a collapse of the housing market for these properties. The owners of upwards of 900,000 properties face months, if not years of uncertainty.
There are a number of local heroes who have stepped up to assist. A big shout out to lead member for housing in Manchester, Cllr Susanna Richards, who has been brilliant in her efforts to assist impacted flat owners in her city. Sadly though, most in local government think this is someone else’s problem.
How those housing associations involved can ever think their reputation will recover from the scandalous way they have treated those who, in good faith, bought deficient properties, is beyond me.
Pretty soon the shadow of the COVID crisis will lift (and hopefully the Grenfell inquiry will report one day). At some point soon we need to address the appalling record of the major builders in this country and provide justice to those who continue to suffer.
Paul Wheeler is director of the Political Skills Forum and writes on local politics