TThree days after that horrific night in 2017 when a fire broke out in Grenfell Tower, killing dozens of its residents and destroying the homes of many more, I was returning from York when my phone rang.
The call came from the CEO of the Manchester Housing Association that I chair. A brand new building that we had recently opened, offering high quality housing for the elderly, was one of the first properties to fail emergency fire tests in UK skyscrapers.
By the time media arrived later that afternoon, the cherry pickers were busy removing the offending coating.
I wish that was the end of the story, but it isn’t.
The fire-rated coating has been the catalyst for a far-reaching, and arguably long overdue, reassessment of the status of multi-storey dwellings. Buildings previously considered safe were suddenly, and correctly, redesignated as high risk.
Structural problems have been exposed, those which go far beyond the inadequate materials attached to the exterior walls. And with each new awareness of the insecurity of many homes, the cost of refurbishment has skyrocketed.
The lease system, through which many large apartment buildings are owned, was put in place to pay for the common services and elements of a building, while ceding ownership of its home to each household.
It was never intended to deal with the massive remediation costs that overnight reduced the mortgage value of a high-rise (or mid-rise) apartment to zero.
Many residents are now trapped, living in properties deemed unsafe, paying the costs of nightly âwake-upsâ while facing repair bills of tens of thousands of pounds.
With potential buyers unable to secure a loan, current owners cannot sell, even when family circumstances make it necessary.
For the past few years, I have lent my voice and my support to the Manchester Cladiators, a wonderfully named band that is just as tenacious as the fiercest fighters of the Roman Empire.
Along with similar groups across the country, they are campaigning to get their homes back to a condition in which they can both live safely and can be sold for their fair value.
To me it just seems unfair that they are paying the price for the mistakes of others, and as a bishop with over 30 years of active involvement in housing associations, it sounds like an injustice I want to do something.
I believe there are answers. If I were to buy a car or washing machine and this model later turned out to have a propensity to ignite, I would expect the manufacturer to call it back, repair or replace, at its expense, anything. which is necessary.
The fact that the defect was unknown at the time of manufacture would not be an excuse to escape liability.
Nor would it be acceptable to waste years procrastinating over the details, leaving me to bear the security risk in the meantime.
The principle that the person who created the problem must solve it, known succinctly as the polluter pays, can apply to an apartment as well as to a household appliance.
The Safe Buildings Bill on Parliament’s timeline provides the perfect opportunity to resolve the issues once and for all, including clauses to determine that a building was constructed incorrectly or with the wrong materials. , and redirect remediation costs to the developer.
European human rights law supports the view that parent companies could be held accountable when development was driven by a special purpose vehicle that no longer exists with funds.
When no developer can be found or no regulatory breach has been made, public funds could be refunded through a sector tax. None of these needs involve lengthy and costly legal actions for residents.
I find it hard to believe that it is pure coincidence that individuals and organizations related to the construction industry have been such generous political donors and assiduous lobbyists in the (too many) years since Grenfell caught fire.
But I know that many members of Parliament and peers, including the Conservatives, support our efforts.
We will take our message, politely but firmly, to their party conference here in Manchester this weekend. And all the other major political arenas we can speak on, until British homes are secured.