Cladding danger: 5th June Protests

by Pete Mason, East London Socialist Party

The tragic Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people, is approaching its fourth anniversary on 14 June. Yet the fire at New Providence Wharf on 7 May was just ‘minutes’ away from being another Grenfell Tower disaster, a report claims.

Nothing symbolises the deep housing crisis more than the millions of people who sleep each night in fire-risk buildings. Defending the profits of the big building companies, the government has just voted down a cross-party amendment which aimed to ensure that homeowners are not made to pay for remediation.

Grenfell Fire demonsrators, 17.6.17
Photo by Mary Finch SP

Decades of government cuts, relaxation, deregulation and privatisation of the building inspections and safety regimes are to blame for the housing crisis.

Bellway Homes announced pre-tax profits of £237 million in 2020. The drive for profits cuts across concerns for safety. Our homes should not be in the hands of profit-driven building firms. The big builders should be nationalised with compensation paid only to those in proven need, all unsafe buildings immediately remediated, and a mass high-quality council housing programme established to set new standards in the building industry and end homelessness.

While millions of tenants in the private rented section are forced to move so often they are “nearly nomadic”, as Shelter puts it, leaseholders, having sunk their life savings into a flat, find that they are trapped in unsafe homes. Unable to move or sell, some face bankruptcy.

After the successful protests on the Barking Riverside estate in East London, joined by New Providence Wharf residents and three groups from other estates, the Barking Reach Residents Association raised the call for nationwide protests outside builders’ and developers’ sales offices on the 5 June.

This received a big echo. Confirmed protests on the 5 June took place in Beckton Parkside, Royal Greenwich, Canary Wharf and Newham in London, Chipping Barnet, Hayes, Southend-on-Sea, Ipswich, Stevenage, Birmingham, Manchester Town Hall and George Street, and Cardiff. In many cases this was the residents’ first step onto the streets, their patience having run out.

Protests took place around the country on 5 June highlighting the cladding crisis, covered by both the BBC and ITV news. Four years after the Grenfell Tower disaster, flammable cladding, balconies, insulation and missing cavity barriers are still causing untold misery.

All around the country protesters explained that they had sunk their life savings into a home which is now valued at zero – unsellable, and they are facing bankruptcy.

We took our protest to the Beckton Parkside sales office of Bellway Homes. Cars were constantly beeping their support.

Bellway Must Pay!

On the megaphone, I pointed out that the government is defending the profits of the big building companies, and called for them to be nationalised, so that all unsafe buildings could be immediately remediated, to break the deadlock residents are currently facing. This could then start a mass high-quality council housing building programme to set new standards in the building industry and end homelessness.

Protests hit the local offices of Countryside, in Clapton and Barnet in London. Over 100 gathered in Hayes.

Large crowds in Birmingham condemned a range of developers. On the Bellway protest in Manchester, protestors chanted: “Hey Bellway, rich and rude, we don’t like your attitude”. Local TV covered the Manchester protest against Lendlease.

In Canary Wharf in London, protesters from the New Providence Wharf, where a fire broke out just a month ago, angry at developer Ballymore, were joined by protestors against Persimmon. A New Providence Wharf resident said that the fire brigade told them their fire was a “very near miss” — with two hospitalised, and many evacuated — and that “next time they may not be so lucky”.

At the same time, a big protest took place in Brighton against Barratt Homes, where 600 residents have organised themselves into a residents association. They said: “We’re going to confront the government, and we’re going to confront Barratt Homes.”

The Socialist Party says an essential next step is bringing all the campaigns together in a conference to discuss the way forward — include resident associations, Fire Brigades Union and other unions, such as those covering housing. That conference could propose to build a national Saturday demonstration, and participate in the May 2022 local elections.

The New Providence Wharf fire shows the urgency of stepping up the campaign. Campaigners must look further than cross-party support. The Socialist Party calls for the independent political organisation of the working class and its allies as the only way to ensure workers across all sections of society — both tenants and leaseholders — resolve the housing crisis in our interests. Cladding and leasehold campaigns should join with tenants and residents associations, the Fire Brigades Union and other sympathetic unions, housing organisations and campaign organisations, in organising a national delegate conference to debate a path to success, including proposals to build a national Saturday demonstration and participation in local elections in the spring.

The campaign demands:

  • The government should pay
  • Builders and developers must immediately remediate
  • No costs to residents

“Barratt must pay!”

by Ferdy Lyons, East London Socialist Party

The Socialist Party and the Social Housing Action Campaign attended a protest outside Upton Gardens, Barratt’s development at the site of West Hams’ old Boleyn Ground, as part of the national day of action over the cladding scandal.

Leaseholders of Barratt developments are facing bills of up to £31,000 to remove the unsafe cladding from their properties, on top of the extortionate service charges they are already paying for waking watches and fire wardens. The demo was very well attended, with many Barratt leaseholders and residents, various community groups, local MP Stephen Timms and London Assembly members Umesh Desai and Zack Polanski.

Demonstrators drowned out the traffic of Green Street with chants of ‘Barratt must pay’ that was met with drivers honking their horns in support. The flammable cladding was erected by these developers in the full knowledge it was unsafe, and the government is letting them get away with it. All flammable cladding off now and make the developers and government pay not the residents!