The Building Safety Bill was debated in Parliament this week for the first time last Wednesday and I was fortunately able to speak in what was a hugely oversubscribed debate.
You can read my speech in full here
You can read the whole debate here.
I am hugely disappointed with the aspects of the Bill that concern fire safety, remediation and leaseholders. Once again, it fails you.
Firstly, despite promising to protect leaseholders from having to pay for cladding costs over 17 times, there are no legal protections for them from building safety costs in this Bill. The door is still open for unscrupulous freeholders and developers. This is nothing short of a betrayal, and I have called on the Public Bill Committee to include this at Committee Stage.
Time and time again, the Government has teased leaseholders with false hopes and promises only to leaseholders only to snatch them away whenever the time comes for them to deliver. This Bill is the latest example. It is cruel, it is wrong, and it is irresponsible.
Secondly, the funding options and alternatives mooted in the Bill are not realistic. As many of you are more than aware, the Building Safety Bill is riddled with problems. It isn’t anywhere near enough, it is slow, badly communicated, inconsistent and being carried out on a first come first serve basis which makes no sense. The Government also don’t seem to know how many applications have been received for the fund, I asked them this via a written question and they couldn’t answer it.
While the Government have introduced a legal requirement for building owners to explore alternative ways of meeting costs and expanded the timeframe in which leaseholders can retrospectively seek legal compensation from developers from 6 to 15 years, which are welcome additions, they are out of touch with reality if they think this will solve the problem.
Many of the cowboy developers that built these buildings have gone bust and legal action is simply not a realistic option for many buildings. The National Housing Federation agrees with me on this, and believes it does not provide a funding solution for leaseholders either.
The end result is returning to where we started – the gross injustice of leaseholders footing the bill.
The Building Safety Bill will now go to a Committee Stage at which amendments will be proposed by MPs, and the Labour committee members will be proposing a series of amendments. It will then return to the Commons for consideration of these amendments before going to the House of Lords for debate, where it can also be amended. It will then come back to the House of Commons for a final debate and opportunity for amendments to improve the Bill.
As I have mentioned previously, Labour is calling on the Government establish a Building Works Agency based on the very successful model used in the state of Victoria, Australia. In Victoria, we see a model that has tackled cladding and fire safety problems head on and with great success. The big lesson from them is that the Government needs to be interventionist and bold, or the work will never get done.
I attended the latest Leaseholders APPG meeting where I heard from officials from the Victorian State Government themselves, who outlined, in detail, their approach to UK MPs from all parties:
- They carried out a full-scale audit, proactively going to every building over 2 stories, rather than waiting for building owners to self-report.
- Cladding Safety Victoria is the body with powers to fix the buildings. There is a dedicated officer for each building. They appoint a project manager directly. They use their own set of fire engineers to assess the works that will be necessary. They organise the insurance, which is otherwise too hard to get on the market. CSV releases funds according to milestones and inspections. The same fire engineers sign off the building as safe at the end.
- Meanwhile, owners can sell because they have a certificate saying that the works will be done and paid for.