Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn calls for urgent help for cladding scandal victims

Leeds MP Hilary Benn is urging the government to act immediately to help victims of the cladding scandal who are each paying hundreds of pounds a month to keep their homes safe.

By Robyn Vinter
Saturday, 11th January 2020, 3:50 pm
Updated Monday, 20th January 2020, 3:34 pm

Hundreds of people across a dozen blocks of flats in Leeds have been forced to pay crippling fees for a 24-hour fire marshall, after West Yorkshire Fire Service said their buildings were unsafe.

Also on this story: Desperate Leeds residents call for government help with multi-million pound bills to replace dangerous claddingMany are made out of the same materials as The Cube in Bolton, which caught fire in November, and are considered as flammable as the deadly cladding on London’s Grenfell Tower, where a fire in 2017 killed 72 people.

Mr Benn, the Labour MP for Leeds Central, said the government needs to make financial support available immediately to people who are each paying up to £400 a month for 24-hour fire marshalls known as a "waking watch" as an interim measure to avoid being evicted, after West Yorkshire Fire Service inspectors found their buildings were unsafe.

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St George's Building is one place where residents are paying for the costly fire marshalls. Pic: Google

Multi-million pound work now urgently needs to be carried out across the buildings, some of which were not legal or safe when they were built, which could cost as much as £50,000 per household.

Residents have said the extra costs have already had an enormous personal impact, especially as they expect it to take years to sort out the problems and they are unable to sell up and move as it is now impossible to find a buyer, as banks are no longer approving mortgages on the buildings.

Also in news: Transport Secretary Grant Shapps gives 'complete commitment' to YEP's Unlock the Gridlock campaign - and we'll keep on watchingMr Benn attended a meeting on Thursday night with members of the public from across the country who are affected by the cladding scandal, as well as campaigners and housing organisations.

He said: “We need to get on with it because the buildings aren’t safe, there’s a potential risk. But we need to get on with it because the longer it isn’t fixed, the longer people have to continue to pay for the waking watch.

“And that's why the government needs to make financial support available.

“The Secretary of State for Communities, Housing and Local Government has got principal responsibility to try and sort this out and that is a point that we’re going to continue to press vigorously on behalf of our constituents.

Also in news: Leeds taxi driver father-of-three stabbed in neck in Armley over £3 fare - urgent police appeal“It’s not the leaseholders’ fault - that’s the point we’re going to be making to government. There needs to be a plan to deal with this because this is an ever-expanding problem that is affecting a growing number of people.

“The are a number of MPs who are very aware of this - there were people there from London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds [on Thursday night]. We will pursue this as a group of MPs in the House of Commons.”

He said it was reasonable that if there was later found to be a company or organisation responsible for the cost of the work, the government could claim the money back.

A Ministry of Communities, Housing and Local Government spokesperson said it had made £600 million available to deal with buildings that have exactly the same cladding as Grenfell Tower and announced legislation to strengthen enforcement powers to hold building owners and managers to account.