A new campaign group has been set up to ‘give voice’ to people in Scotland affected by a combination of UK and Scottish law which has left thousands of people across the country unable to sell their property.
The High Rise Scotland Action Group (HRSAG) will represent residents, owners and Owners Associations in Scotland affected by guidelines around cladding which came into force after the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.
In the wake of the tragedy mortgage lenders issued guidance that properties over 18 metres high with any cladding must provide written confirmation that they meet fire safety standards set out by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
However without clear guidance as to what tests are required or who is authorised to carry them out, many homeowners have found when attempting to sell their flat that surveyors have given them ‘nil valuations’, rendering the property worthless.
Prospective buyers have also been put off by the lack of clarity over the regulations, and some homeowners have found themselves unable to remortgage their homes.
A Ministerial Working Group for Building and Fire safety was established in June 2017 to oversee reviews of building and fire safety regulation in Scotland after the Grenfell fire.
It is chaired by Kevin Stewart, Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, and members include Ash Denham, Minister for Community Safety, and representative from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the NHS.
In reply to a letter from HRSAG coordinator Chris Ashurst, Mr Stewart wrote in June that his officials would be in touch with the group later in the summer.
He added: “In the meantime I am aware that until this matter has come to a conclusion the uncertainty will be stressful for all involved, please be assured that this matter remains a priority for the Scottish Government.”
Mr Ashust gave evidence to an online meeting of the Local Government and Communities Committee on the subject of the building regulations and the effect they have on homeowners on June 19.
Mr Ashhurst said: “We know from personal experience the fear and stress this on-going doubt causes and it is time that all those affected urgently work together to ensure real reform.
“We recently gave evidence to the Local Government and Communities Committee of the Scottish Parliament, and we want to hear from others who have been affected by these issues so that we can understand the full extent of the problems faced and provide a clear voice for these ignored communities to campaign for meaningful change to our lives.”
Mhairi Doris, 31, bought a flat in the Western Harbour Development with her husband Mark Sermanni in 2015.
When her work as a GP relocated to South Lanarkshire the couple attempted to sell their flat and move, but they have been unable to due to uncertainty over cladding on the building.
The couple were not aware of the cladding when they bought the flat, and only found out about the issue when they read a story in the Edinburgh Evening News in October 2019 about Nickie Eden, a woman in the same development who was unable to sell her flat due to the cladding.
“It was a shock, but since then we’ve become aware of everyone in the flat being concerned by it,” said Ms Doris.
“We get the sense that we’re going round in circles without any solutions because of a lack of guidance.”
The couple are keen to have the building certified as safe so they can go ahead with the planned move.
However their first priority is reassuring themselves that the building is safe, especially as Ms Doris is pregnant with their first baby, which is due in just two weeks’ time.
“We just want to know that the building is safe,” she said.
“We have been advised that the cladding must be tested prior to certification but at present have been informed that there seems to be no option for testing the cladding material to determine its safety.
“There has been no progress with this over the past numerous months, and very little communication regarding this.
“There have been instances of residents having barbecues on balconies and also frequent short term lets which concerns me that other people may not be aware of safety regulations.
“I am concerned that every delay with this puts, not only peoples’ finances, but their safety at risk. I think it should be dealt with as a matter of urgency.”