The doomsday clock has been counting down to September 30, when residents claim they will be facing bankruptcy. Image: Supplied
Leaseholders in Croydon facing financial ruin if work to remove dangerous cladding doesn’t begin in days have beamed a doomsday clock onto a local building to draw attention to their plight.
Residents in the 75 flats at Bridge House have launched the stunt to highlight the £2.8 million bill they are facing to remove cladding from the property, working out at around £23,000 per household.
Leaseholders told The Big Issue they are in the dark about whether they will receive funding to cover remediation work from the UK government’s £5bn Building Safety Fund following a dispute with the managing agent and freeholder of the property. But they fear they could be entitled to no funding at all if work doesn’t begin by September 30 – the deadline given by the government.
Joanna Steele, a 35-year-old event manager who has lived at the property for five years, told The Big Issue: “The only thing that we know for certain is that we have a countdown. We have a limited time and that’s really all we can do is just try and raise awareness before the end of our deadline.
“You’re stuck in the middle, you can’t sell your flat, get a mortgage, do anything with it, but at the same time the government won’t fund it.”
“Basically, if we don’t have an answer by the end of September, we don’t get any funding at all.”
Bridge House residents have vowed to keep projecting the doomsday clock, which counts down every day, hour, minute and second until the end of September, on the old water tower at Waterworks Yard, which sits directly opposite the building.
One of the people living at the property even bought a projector specifically to beam the image onto the tower in a bid to make people in the area take notice of their ordeal, which has lasted two years since the unsafe cladding was discovered in September 2019.
The resident behind the doomsday clock, a 32-year-old user interface designer who wished to remain anonymous, told The Big Issue: “They’re obviously hoping that we’re going to go down quietly.
“I just thought, ‘Let’s make it as public as possible’. We need the countdown because we’re in the kind of situation where every second counts and people just seem to be sitting on their hands.
“We’re just 75 families facing bankruptcy if the situation isn’t sorted by the deadline and we’re kind of powerless to do anything else.
“Honestly, I’m just amazed that we should be scammed into buying a home that’s unsafe, and the people who did that to us just get away with it. And I’ve got no idea how the victim of the situation can be the one who is legally compelled to put it right.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) told The Big Issue the September 30 deadline was originally introduced to encourage building owners to urgently carry out work and there is flexibility for applications that fail to meet that date.
“The initial application to the Building Safety Fund for Bridge House included some work that was not eligible for funding, and the owners are now resubmitting their application. All eligible work will be funded by the BSF, which rightly prioritises the replacement of unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings. So far we’ve processed over 600 building applications, with estimated remediation costs of £2.5 billion, and there is flexibility where deadlines cannot be met,” the LUHC spokesperson said.
“Owners and industry should take swift action to make buildings safe without passing costs on to leaseholders, and we will make sure they pay their fair share with a new levy and tax to contribute to the costs of cladding replacement.”
Local Labour MP Sarah Jones asked Boris Johnson if he has a “better plan” to help Bridge House residents at Prime Ministers’ Questions on September 15.
Jones asked: “My constituents are not eligible for the government’s building safety fund because it is the wrong type of cladding. Can the prime minister confirm: Do my constituents have to pay the £23,000 each that they are being charged to remove this cladding, or does he have a better plan?”
Johnson replied: “If the honourable lady’s constituents are being told that they do not have to remove that cladding, then the answer is no.
“It is very, very important that this House should recognise that too many buildings have been unnecessarily – unfairly, I believe – categorised as dangerous and unsafe.
“Of course we must remove dangerous cladding, and we are doing that, but I want householders and leaseholders – people living in flats across this country – to have the confidence that they can do so in safety.”