Fleur Anderson MP spoke in the Building Safety and Social Housing debate on Thursday 13th July:
“I welcome this debate, six years on from the Grenfell tragedy. No amount of words and speeches can remove the grief and pain inflicted on the families and friends of the 72 lives lost to the fire. We will never forget. The scars will be with the community and with our nation for generations to come. I pay tribute to the families, survivors, the community and Grenfell United for their voice and for campaigning so consistently—despite their own grief—for change, transparency and justice. Lessons have not been learned. Countless people still live in buildings with hazardous cladding. Although I welcome the Building Safety Act and its good intentions, progress has just been too painfully slow. During Covid we saw how fast the Government can move when they need to, in stark contrast to their slowness in setting up the building safety fund, which did not even account for the number of people or blocks affected. Registration took so long and then had to be extended, still without providing huge amounts of money to developers. They were then so slow to bring developers to the table. It is their faults, their mistakes and their errors, but it is people who are paying the price.
For more than three years since I was elected, I have been supporting thousands of constituents in Putney, Roehampton and Southfields in 30 blocks with unsafe cladding. Only one—only one—has had its cladding fully removed. The scaffolding went up and was up for quite a long time. It has now been removed and the residents are now in a safe building, but in all the other blocks either the cladding is untouched and they do not know when it will be removed, or, for a couple of blocks, the scaffolding is up and the cladding is being removed. But why, six years on, has there been so little work? I speak to constituents constantly who are furious that their cladding has still not been removed, and that reflects the situation up and down the country.
Just this week I had a meeting with residents, developers and managing agents of one of those developments. The residents were asking, “Is our building safe?” All the developers could say was, “Well, it’s not, not safe.” That is not good enough if you are living in that building, worried about what will happen at night. So much money has been spent on waking watch—many residents call it sleeping watch—which really has not worked. Was it necessary? In the meeting this week, I heard from one person who said she could not renegotiate her mortgage because of lenders’ building safety concerns, so her mortgage costs were going up by £2,000 a month. Another has had to borrow from friends and family. He, too, was unable to renegotiate his mortgage because of those concerns. They could not be given a comfort letter by the developer, which is one of those that has signed the developer pledge, because it could not guarantee the work would be done to a high enough extent for mortgage lenders. People still have the mental distress of living in what could be unsafe homes; unable to let them, they cannot move on with their lives—have a normal life—despite spending so much money on a home. The big questions they have for the developers are, “When will they even start the work for my development?” and “When will it finish? When will this be over?” That is what they are asking.
I want to come on to talk about the actions the Government have taken, but the trouble is that every action they take and every question they eventually answer leaves about two more unanswered. It is not acceptable that after all these years, I must still—with many other Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), who has done so much to campaign on this issue—come back to the Chamber. What will happen to the vast majority of people living in social housing who have still not had sprinklers retrofitted in their blocks? As Inside Housing reported, fewer than 20% of high rise social housing blocks have been fitted with sprinklers and only 12% with fire alarms. Instead, there needs to be work, block by block, with the residents of those blocks on what needs to happen to keep them safe.
What will happen to the 140,000 leaseholders in England who are living in mid-rise buildings with “life safety” fire risks? There has been no update on the medium-rise remediation fund since the pilot scheme was launched for only 60 blocks. What will happen to the unknown numbers of people who live in buildings under 11 metres with lethal cladding still on them, which likely house disabled residents, not to mention the unresolved issues that leaseholders have had with EWS1 forms? What will happen to leaseholders who have non-cladding defects, but cannot afford the £15,000 spending cap in London or the £10,000 spending cap outside London? What will happen to people living in the almost 12,000 buildings with non-ACM flammable cladding? Why did the Government water down the personal emergency evacuation plans for disabled people, and go against the recommendations of the inquiry? I am glad that the personal emergency evacuation plans were mentioned by the Secretary of State, but there are so many more questions about when it will be actioned. Will the Minister enact the Financial Conduct Authority’s recommendations on spiralling insurance costs, which were also mentioned in the debate? That is a huge issue for many of my constituents. Many leaseholders are suffering and even going bankrupt. They face increases of over 500% on their insurance costs. What will happen to those people? Will they be forgotten, or do the Government have a plan?
Without robust and swift enforcement, the Building Safety Act 2022 is toothless. Will the Secretary of State say why a deadline was not put in place for when developers have to remove their cladding, rather than the vague ask of “as soon as reasonably practicable”? Is there any plan to have a deadline? Will the developers who signed the pledge, which is welcome, be given a final deadline? Will residents know when they are likely to be out of the nightmare they are facing? Developers just seem to be dragging their feet while costs are rising. The Secretary of State mentioned a legal duty on developers who signed the pledge to get on with remediation. It would be far better if that “getting on with it” was given an actual date, which would focus their minds, help release so much of the concern and worry, bring down insurance costs and provide the comfort that mortgage lenders say they need.
The Department has only shared details on threatening to take one developer to court if it does not agree to remediation works. I think the Secretary of State said there may be two more in process, but whether it is one or three that is such a small number. What serious consequences are there currently for the countless other developers who have refused to sign the remediation contract or have delayed works? Can the Minister state how often the building safety regulator will call in the accountable person and what the enforcement will be?
As the Secretary of State said, Kingspan, Arconic and Saint-Gobain are the manufacturers whose cladding was installed in Grenfell Tower. It is still going on many other buildings. I am glad action is being taken, but they still have not paid a single penny towards remediation costs. As their profits soar, taxpayers are footing the bill of their negligence to the tune of £5 billion. Enforcement needs to be more than just a letter asking them to pay. Where is the accountability? What is the hold up? Where is the justice?
I am glad that the voice of social housing tenants has been mentioned, because that is at the heart of the issue. That includes temporary accommodation tenants who often have very little voice They do not know how long they will be placed for. They do not know where to go to have their say. Often, additional work is not done by councils to enable them to have a voice, yet they may be raising the very issues, the equivalent of which were being raised by Grenfell residents before the tragedy. Their voice needs to be heard. Government support should be built into the system to reward councils that give their social housing tenants, including temporary accommodation tenants, a voice that leads to actual change. Additional work and support is needed to ensure those tenants know their voice can be heard, but they need to be listened to. If that lesson of Grenfell is not learned, we may see more tragedies that could have been stopped.
Grenfell was not an isolated incident, but the result of decades of unfettered deregulation of our safety. Our hospitals are crumbling. Our homes are riddled with toxic mould and lethal cladding. One-fifth of all firefighters have been axed. A year before Grenfell, the Conservatives voted against making homes fit for human habitation. The truth is that it took the tragedies of Grenfell and baby Awaab’s death from mould for the Government to even think about improving safety standards. Previously, I have called for a Minister for mould, because of so many cases I know of where families’ health has been put at risk from the mould they suffer in their homes. The pace and scope of action has been woefully inadequate and consequently there is very little to prevent another tragedy happening again. That terrifies me.
My constituents are exhausted. Campaigners on cladding are exhausted. I am exhausted. Grenfell United is continuing on bravely, but their justice needs to be seen. The legacy of Grenfell, the tragic deaths of 72 wonderful lives, must be justice and certainty that this will never happen again. How has this not been sorted out six years on? It will go down in history as one of the great failings of this Government. All my constituents want is to live in a home that is safe, to buy a home that they know is safe, to be able to sell that home if they need to, and not to have to pay for the mistakes of others. My final question to the Minister is this: is that too much to ask?”