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A plan to set up a new fire safety support hub in Cardiff to help victims of the cladding scandal has been turned down. Thousands in the city are still living in apartments at serious risk of fire, five years after the Grenfell Tower disaster, with many facing gigantic bills for work to make their homes safe.
A fire safety support hub could help those affected with financial and legal advice, as well as signposting and counselling for those suffering from mental health issues, councillors said. Liberal Democrats in Cardiff put forward a motion on Thursday, March 17 to set up a hub, with backing from other opposition councillors.
But this was voted down by the ruling Labour group. Councillor Rhys Taylor, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “Five years on and people are still trapped in potentially unsafe homes, and are paying the price both financially and mentally for the mistakes of developers.”
“Leaseholders in some instances have faced bills of thousands of pounds due to be paid with less than 28 days' notice. That’s because kettles have more consumer protection than the leaseholders who are trapped in this scandal. People are looking to pay their whole life savings to meet these bills, and war veterans are even considering selling their medals.”
“In June, management companies will be issuing the second half of annual services charges. For the Celestia buildings in Cardiff Bay, that’s half of the £2.4m needed to repair defects. If leaseholders can’t pay, of which there will be many, they’ll be pursued by debtors. A support hub would provide help and advice for people in these situations.”
Extra costs heaped onto affected residents include skyrocketing insurance premiums, service charges, patrolling fire wardens, and remediation work like replacing the cladding. Many of the issues faced by affected residents in Cardiff are complex and technical, including fraudulent fire safety certificates and inadequate wall inspections.
Lots of residents also suffer from poor mental health as a result of the issues, according to recent surveys. Labour said the fire safety issues were difficult to address and had previously explored council tax residents for affected residents, but later ruled this out as too expensive.
Cllr Lynda Thorne, the cabinet member for housing, dismissed the motion as a pre-election stunt. She said: “This administration is committed to doing all we can to help and support all those residents affected by the plethora of faults and design failures built into these developments. It’s a whole gambit of failures that makes this issue so difficult to address. These issues aren’t straightforward.”
The Liberal Democrat motion, which called to set up a building safety support hub in Cardiff, was amended by Labour councillors to remove any reference to setting up a hub. Labour instead said the cabinet should write to the UK Government about the issues. In December 2021, the Welsh Government announced plans to buy some flats with fire safety defects from leaseholders who had found them impossible to sell.
22 November 2023