This afternoon, Michael Gove made a statement on the cladding crisis. You can read the full statement here. This is ahead of the Building Safety Fund Bill debate on Wednesday next week.
I welcome the a much stronger line approach by Government. The Building Safety Fund will be sped up and developers ‘put on notice’ and expected to pay for cladding remediation under threat of taking them or fining them – ‘if necessary we will impose a solution upon them in law’. This will now apply to all buildings above 11m and not be split into a grant for buildings 11m – 18m and a fund for buildings over 18m. There will be a more ‘proportionate’ approach to building safety and fewer unnecessary surveys and an assumption that ‘medium-rise buildings are safe unless there is clear evidence otherwise’. There will be a new £27 million fund for fire alarms to replace the need for the very expensive waking watch. The Consolidated Advice Note, which guided fire safety assessments and has been shown to be too cautious, has been withdrawn and a new proportionate guidance for assessors will be published this week. This should reduce the number of buildings that are deemed to need remediation works and stop the profiteering of insurance companies.
I asked Michael Gove when leaseholders can expect developers to act and if there could be a guarantee given in the meantime, and what will be done for buildings under 11m. Watch here.
I welcome many aspects of the announcement and they echo much of what I and the Labour party has been calling for over the past two years. In particular, I welcome (yet another) statement from the Minister affirming that it is “morally wrong” that leaseholders are footing the bill and that they will pursue statutory protections. At last the Government agrees that the ‘polluter pays’ principle should apply to this scandal. I am also pleased that the ill thought-out loan scheme proposed by Mr Gove’s predecessor for blocks under 18m has been scrapped and that he will be taking steps to speed up the onerously slow Building Safety Fund.
However, there are still big questions that the Government must answer:
First, there is no deadline or timetable to this and so I know you will be asking what will happen now and when will there be a guarantee that leaseholders will not have to pay. Michael Gove this and he said that there will be a meeting with developers and more announcements by Easter. But this had already been going on for too long. This isn’t the cast iron guarantee that leaseholders need to know that buildings will be made safe, or don’t need to be made safe and that developers will pay.
Second, what makes them think that developers are suddenly going to voluntarily do the right thing and stump up cash to fix their own mess? They have been sitting on their hands for four years. Mr Gove said today that the Government if they fail to do so voluntarily, it will legislate to force them to pay through the threat of taxation or legal solutions. A welcome announcement, but the Chief Secretary for the Treasury has told Michael Gove in a letter over the weekend that any decision to raise taxes is a decision for him and is “not a given at this point”, and that no more public funds will be available. So if the developers don’t agree to put forward the funding, I cannot see what the Secretary of State can do. It is a hollow threat.
There is also the glaring problem that many developers of unsafe buildings no longer exist.
Third, what about non-cladding defects? The measures announced apply to buildings with cladding only but not to other serious defects. This is not good enough. As Lisa Nandy said, you cannot make a building ‘half safe’, and leaseholders are facing ruinous costs for such defects and they are being abandoned by the Government. Michael Gove was questioned about this several times and seemed to concede that all defects must be included, but it is not included in the statement and so I will continue to push for this.
Fourth, the Secretary of State said that he is willing to pursue statutory protections for leaseholders from building safety costs. So why not support the amendments to the Building Safety Bill (which I have signed) that will do just this? Why the reluctance? We have heard this before, but nothing has been forthcoming.
Fifth, while I very much agree with the need to restore proportionality and common sense to the system, we have not heard in any great detail how the Secretary of State will ensure that lenders and insurers are fully in line with the Government’s approach which is concerning given how they have ignored directives from Ministers in the past.
Sixth and finally, today’s announcement contained nothing for buildings under 11m. This is deeply concerning, as I know for a fact that there our buildings in this constituency under 11m who are facing eye-watering costs for fire safety defects and unscrupulous property managers and freeholders are pressing ahead with works and associated exorbitant fees.
Let me be clear – much of what was announced today is very positive and could make a real difference and, moreover, has only happened as a result of the tireless campaigning by myself and my colleagues and all of the cladding campaigners in Putney, London and nationally. But there are still several gaping holes in the Government’s plan, and given we have had four years of failure, false dawns and obfuscation from Ministers on this crisis I can be forgiven for remaining sceptical.
I will be judging the new Secretary of State on his actions and will be holding him robustly to account on his promisesand hope to see much more progress in the Building Safety Bill next week.