RESIDENTS of apartment buildings in Wales with unresolved fire safety defects have staged a protest outside the Senedd. 

Many say they are “trapped” in buildings which they cannot sell until issues which came to light following the 2017 Grenfell Tower tragedy, in London, which claimed 72 lives are resolved. 

The UK Government has created a £5 billion fund in England to help meet the estimated £15bn cost of repairs but residents in Wales say there is a lack of clarity over what support the Welsh Government will offer. 

Last week climate change minister Julie James announced the Welsh Government will fund surveys to determine the condition of buildings over 11m with high-rise blocks, those 18m or taller, prioritised initially. 

But she says it is still unclear how much money the government will receive, and when, as a result of the UK Government’s creation of the £5bn building safety fund. 

Those campaigning on the issue in Wales say they are being left in limbo with unresolved issues between administrations in Cardiff and London and still facing battles with developers who built and sold their homes.  

A statement issued on behalf of the organisers of Saturday’s march said: “Homeowners in Wales as well as England are being asked to pay for the costly mess that was created by developers, builders, and a failed building control and inspection regime on both sides of the river Severn, yet hardly anyone is willing to accept responsibility for their previous mistakes.  

“Developers and builders responsible have stepped back and appear to be hoping that no one will notice how they are seeking to avoid taking responsibility for the crisis.” 

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The Grenfell fire highlighted that flammable cladding had been used in renovations, or construction of modern, apartment buildings. Since the fire building safety regulations have been strengthened and some buildings need to be brought up to standard with a range of fire safety issues, beyond cladding, identified. 

The Welsh Government said it has already ensured all identified buildings in Wales with ACM cladding have been remediated at no additional cost to leaseholders. It also made £10.5m available last year for affected buildings in the social sector which saw improvements made, or planned, for 12 buildings. 

But those in privately owned accommodation say the Welsh Government has yet to offer them the same protection as for those tenants in the social sector and believe outdated leasehold regulations are being used to pass the cost of improvements on them rather than landowners and developers. 

Sunil Patel, who lives at the Celestia housing development, near the Senedd in Cardiff Bay, said he was disappointed that no Labour politicians had attended Saturday’s protest. 

He said: “The Welsh Government is already funding the social sector which we fully support. However private homeowners are still left in limbo as illustrated by the announcement which suggests it might be another year or two before any funding is available. The pressure on homeowners is immense, both mentally and financially, and people cannot take it much longer.” 

With the Welsh Government saying it is unclear what support it can offer due to a lack of clarity over how much money it will receive as a consequence of the spending decision in England Sunil said it is Welsh leaseholders who are losing out. 

He said: “Julie James pushed the crisis back to the UK Government and we seem to be caught up in a political devolution argument over consequential monies while victims suffer. It is shocking that we are caught in the middle of an emerging union battle.”  

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The leaseholder said he and other campaigners are also surprised the Welsh Government says it isn’t in a position to name developers they hold responsible for the defects. 

He said: “We were shocked that four years on from Grenfell Julie James is still taking legal advice on whether she can name and shame developers who fail to repair fire defective homes.” 

While campaigners want the government to provide financial assistance they also say developers and construction companies should accept responsibility and are angry that firms are still able to build new homes while issues remain unresolved. 

Saturday’s demonstration had been raised earlier in the week in the Senedd.  

Plaid Cymru’s South Wales Central MS Rhys ab Owen had asked climate change minister Julie James, who is responsible for housing, if she could provide any more answers for affected homeowners before their demonstration. 

In the Senedd the minister said the work she announced to fund surveys will identify the range of fire safety problems on each building but acknowledged it isn’t a solution in itself. 

She said: “We're funding each building to get a survey done that will produce a building passport, which will tell us exactly what the state of the building is, and off which we can then do the next phase, which is to figure out how we're going to sort it out.” 

James also urged Senedd members to help her in pressuring the UK Government’s housing minister, Robert Jenrick, over the issue. 

“If any Member of the Senedd wants to join with me in calling on the UK Government to tell us at a very early stage—I mean, why has it taken this long—so that we know how much money will be available, that would be very helpful,” said the minister. 

“But nevertheless, despite the fact that we don't know that, we are forging ahead with what we can do, trying to put the systems in place so that once we get the guaranteed funding from the UK Government, we can do something with it.” 

She also reminded members the Welsh Government isn’t committed to spending any consquential money – received as a result of a spending decision in England – on the same thing in Wales but said she needed clarity from the UK Government for budget planning. 

In response to Conservative group leader Andrew RT Davies James said she was unable to confirm the Welsh Government can meet the costs facing homeowners. She said: “It's my ambition that home owners—leaseholders, mostly—should not have to pay for things that are not their fault. But, until I understand the nature and the extent of the damage that there is, and how much money that is, it's impossible for me to promise that.” 

Labour MS for Cardiff Central, Jenny Rathbone, asked if the Welsh Government would discuss with the UK Government, holding developers responsible. 

James said there were legal complexities, including that most such developments were built by SPV - special purpose vehicles - formed for the purpose of the development and then dissolved leaving no corporate entity that can be held legally responsible. 

The UK Government has proposed extending protections from six years after construction to 15 but she said most of the buildings effected in Wales, in Cardiff and Swansea, were built circa the year 2000 and wouldn’t qualify and the 15 year period will only be back dated from when the legislation is eventually passed. 

She said some companies have met with her, and put “substantial sums” into rectifying some of the buildings and said: “I've put a final call out for people to meet me, and we're going to have a round-table of those who are happy to work with us in the autumn. At that point, I have asked for advice on whether I can name and shame the ones that will not come forward, so I'm in the process of getting that advice.” 

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