Many constituents have been contacting me about the remediation of unsafe cladding on high-rise residential buildings, the impact on leaseholders and the amendment now being put forward to the Building Safety Bill.
As you may be aware, I have been pressing the Government to honour its promise that leaseholders should not have to pay to fix this scandal, and yet hundreds of thousands of people, including many of my constituents in Leeds, are still living in blocks with flammable cladding and other fire safety defects. We are confronted by a generation of shoddy, unsafe buildings.
A House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report said progress on remediation has been “unacceptably slow”, with residents facing exorbitant costs of funding interim safety measures and many residents reporting worsening mental health as a result.
I completely understand the cost, anxiety and stress that leaseholders – including lots of my constituents – have endured through no fault of their own. Their homes are worthless and the bills for waking watches, fire alarms and insurance keep mounting up.
During the passage of the Fire Safety Bill (now Act), I supported Opposition amendments to try and force the Government to honour its promise that remediation costs will not be passed onto leaseholders. Very disappointingly the Government rejected such amendments on five separate occasions.
Despite promises by Ministers that the Building Safety Bill would include provisions to safeguard leaseholders, the Bill does not yet resolve the issue of leaseholders facing huge costs for historic fire safety defects, contradicting previous Government commitments.
While the Building Safety Bill makes important changes to building regulation and safety, urgent action is still needed to protect people who remain trapped in unsafe homes facing huge bills to fix historic failures. We need legal protections to ensure that millions of pounds of cladding remediation costs are not passed on to innocent homeowners and tenants.
I recognise that the Government has put £5 billion into the Building Safety Fund to offer some help with repairs, but as we all know we are dealing with a combination of unsafe cladding and other fire safety defects which, in many cases, result from buildings not being constructed in accordance with the building regulations at the time – for example missing fire breaks.
In January 2022, Michael Gove made a further important announcement to the House of Commons. He said that the Government was abandoning the idea of loans to replace dangerous cladding on buildings between 11 and 18 metres and instead would cover the cost directly by raising an additional £4 billion from developers, freeholders and others. He also said that he wanted to protect leaseholders from having to meet other costs to remedy fire safety defects that have been discovered. He talked about providing “statutory protection”, but we do not yet know what form this will take. The Building Safety Bill finished its progress through the House of Commons and now moves to the House of Lords where we wait with anticipation to see what amendments the Government puts down to honour the promise made by the Secretary of State. You can see the speech I made in the House of Commons on these latest developments here:
I supported the amendments put down to the Building Safety Bill by Stephen McPartland, Royston Smith, and others, and in particular new clauses 5, 6 and 13, but these were not voted on because of the Government’s promise. There is now a huge burden of expectation on the shoulders of the Secretary of State because of the commitment that he has given, and we are all anxious to see how the Government intend to fulfil it.
Once we have sorted out who is paying, we really must find a way of getting the work done. The Building Safety Fund is not a very efficient way to solve the problem. That is why the Building Works Agency proposed by Labour is such a good idea. First, we would have a body whose job was to find, fix, fund and then recoup through a levy on developers. It would be quicker. Secondly, it would avoid the stand-offs that are taking place. I have seen one case where the expert advisers to the building owners have said that the zinc cladding on wooden battens is not safe, but the Building Safety Fund has said that it is.
Another reason that the Government should adopt our proposal for a Building Works Agency is that it would be the perfect vehicle to review the safety assessment of all the buildings, which the Secretary of State has spoken about, and in the end decide what is safe and what work needs to be done.
Finally, we need speed. We are getting on for 5 years from the Grenfell tragedy, and every single day that passes without the situation being resolved puts enormous strain on our constituents. They also have to pay for the waking watches and insurance premiums that are the consequence of a problem for which they bear no responsibility whatsoever. Until the work is done, people’s flats will continue to be worthless, and they cannot get on with their lives. Some people have had to move out of their flat, get a new job in another part of the country and rent their flat out, and that is why it would be totally unfair to punish them for not being resident leaseholders.
The sooner there is absolute clarity about what the statutory protection will look like, the sooner the work can be done and the day can eventually arrive when leaseholders can put behind them the groundhog day mornings when they have woken up thinking, “Oh my God, I am still stuck in this nightmare”, and instead wake up to look forward with some confidence to getting on with the rest of their lives.
MP for Leeds Central