The Archdeacon of Lewisham and Greenwich, the Venerable Alastair Cutting, echoed the Church of England’s call that residents living in properties with dangerous cladding cannot be held responsible for paying the high costs of fixing it.

Speaking after meeting residents of Royal Artillery Quays, Woolwich, he said, “It is unjust that residents are left holding the bills for security, insurance and restoration just because building regulations in past times permitted developers to install cladding that we now know is dangerous. The Church of England is clear that residents need to know that their housing is safe, stable and sustainable, and calls on the Government to urgently find ways to relieve the financial and emotional costs that are not of the tenants and leaseholders’ making.”

The event was attended by Labour Party Leader, Sir Keir Starmer, who called for a taskforce to be set up “straight away to identify those at high risk and to go after the developers.

Many high-rise buildings across the Diocese of Southwark, and other parts of London, are clad with both Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) and Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) units, resulting in serious stress and fear for tenants and leaseholders, with crippling additional expense and potential bankruptcy. The residents of Royal Artillery Quays, Woolwich, are facing a £13 million bill because flammable cladding was installed in their homes. More than 63% of them risk bankruptcy because of the huge bills to have the dangerous cladding removed.

Steve Day, of Royal Artillery Quays Residents, said, “We believe Royal Artillery Quays was not built to building regulations that were in force at the time of construction. Barrett, our developer, have taken a different view and so residents are left to face a £6,000 a year service charge, and a potential £40,000 cladding bill. The impact of this is grave. Residents are pushed into depression and just last week we had to talk someone out of suicidal thoughts. This really must be resolved urgently, due to our March insurance hike which could be in the range of between a 600% to 1000% increase.”

The Archbishops’ Commission on Housing report, Coming Home, will be released in February, focusing on Safe, Stable, Sustainable, Sociable and Satisfying housing in the UK. From February 2021, EPS cladding is banned in the state of Victoria in Australia in the construction of all multi-storey buildings. EPS is as dangerous as Grenfell’s ACM cladding, Australian research proves. It is not enough that the British Government has banned these materials on new builds: the existing housing clad with these combustible materials also needs to be addressed within a reasonable timeframe, ideally by June 2022, the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire.

“The Christian concern for housing justice highlighted in the Coming Home report, is founded in the biblical narratives of the Christ-child, homeless from birth with no room at the inn; and the Son of Man having no place to lay his head (Luke 2:6; 9:58),” said Alastair. “Buildings clad with ACM and EPS are demonstrably not Safe; nor is such housing Stable for residents, given the huge rise in unexpected service charges, insurance and ‘24 hour waking watch’, before removal is even considered, all making house sales impossible. Loving our neighbours means we have a responsibility to ensure our neighbours’ homes are safe, so that people can feel secure in them,” he continued.

The Bishop of Southwark, The Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, said, “The pandemic lockdown has demonstrated how much our homes and our well-being are bound together. The impact and financial burdens of combustible cladding continue to blight the lives of many residents caught up in a situation not of their own making. There must be no further delays in committing to just and compassionate ways forward.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Revd Justin Welby, said, “Together we can ensure a compassionate and just response to this housing crisis and ensure that everyone has a good home.”