Having returned to the UK after spending many years living and working abroad, I thought I may have left it too late to own my own home. With limited funds, and somewhat nervous of the housing market, I thought shared ownership might be the way to go. And so when I saw adverts for a new, eco-friendly development in Hulme, Manchester, which included some shared ownership units, I thought it sounded perfect for me. The lovely-looking timber beckoned (‘Scandinavian’ rather than ‘combustible’, to my innocent mind) and I moved into my first home in 2006, after years of (often quite dodgy) rentals. The joy. You know how it is – creating your own space, buying your first brand-new stain-free sofa, curating your books on Billy bookshelves, hanging pictures from far-flung adventures on the wall, potting herbs on the sunny balcony.
But the clouds soon began to gather. I will gloss over the singular horrors of shared ownership – half the property, all of the financial liability, probably impossible to sell, difficult to rent out should I need to move. Then came the predators. Our freehold was purchased by unscrupulous profiteers bent on extracting as much money as possible from us while doing nothing to benefit the residents. After protracted legal battles, it seemed our best bet was to buy the freehold, which we did, and we naively thought that might be the end of our troubles.
That was before we began to understand the extent of the building and regulatory failures that have put our lives at risk and raised the spectre of bankruptcy. Yes – ‘lives at risk’, ‘bankruptcy’ – not phrases I would ever have expected to be using when I excitedly put down my precious deposit. That had come from my late dad, a hard-working joiner. I have problems with the sale of council houses as a policy, but I understood why my dad and many others went down that road. And then I benefitted from it when he passed away and left me enough for a deposit on a flat. He would have been thrilled to know he’d helped me buy a home at last.
The first line of the Hackitt Report (2018) has this to say about current building regulations: they are simply ‘not fit for purpose’. Builders were allowed to erect buildings with flammable cladding and create ineffective compartmentation between flats. They could install fire doors which were not fire doors and fire resistant glass which was not fire resistant. I am not absolving builders. As well as fire issues, we have serious leak issues, down to shoddy building no doubt. But this is clearly, at heart, a regulatory problem. And the government, who allowed this to happen, has a moral duty to put things right.