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The safety of high-rise buildings has been under the microscope since dozens of people lost their lives in the tragic Grenfell Tower blaze.
The Government has now pledged to take fresh action to relieve the burden on leaseholders, who have so far faced eye-watering costs for remediation work.
It says it will not hesitate to introduce a developers’ tax to hit those responsible for dangerous cladding if firms do not voluntarily step up to fix safety defects.
Here is what is known about the plans so far:
– What is the problem?
A spotlight was cast on the use of flammable materials in the construction of high-rise buildings following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, which killed 72 people.
Many leaseholders have since been left facing potentially ruinous bills after discovering that cladding on their homes could be dangerous.
Some have reportedly been hit with costs of more than £100,000 to replace the unsafe materials or pay for so-called “waking watches”, where someone is employed to patrol a building checking for fires.
It was an honour for us to be part of the #HillsboroughLaw event today.
Truly humbling to speak alongside families that have been failed by the system for decades, yet still demanding change & Justice so others will not go through the same.#YNWA ♥️💚 #HillsboroughLawNow https://t.co/y0atOlzvau
— Grenfell United (@GrenfellUnited) January 7, 2022
– What action has been taken so far?
In February 2021, the Government announced a multibillion-pound package in a bid to ensure no leaseholders in high-rise blocks in England face charges for the removal of cladding.
The measures were intended to protect those who own homes in taller buildings.
They mean leaseholders in blocks over 18 metres (59ft) in height can access grants to replace unsafe cladding.
The case has so far been different for those who own homes in smaller buildings.
For blocks of between 11 metres and 18 metres (36ft and 59ft), the Government said in February it would introduce a “long-term, low interest” loan scheme under which “no leaseholder will ever pay more than £50 a month towards the removal of unsafe cladding”.
But Michael Gove, who subsequently took over the housing brief, said in November: “I’m still unhappy with the principle of leaseholders having to pay at all, no matter how effective a scheme might be in capping their costs or not hitting them too hard at any one time.”
Speaking to MPs on Monday, he said: “We will also ensure that those who profited and and continue to profit from the sale of unsafe buildings and construction products must take full responsibility for their actions and pay to put things right.
“Those who knowingly put lives at risk should be held to account for their crimes, and those who are seeking to profit from the crisis by making it worse should be stopped from doing so. Today I am putting them on notice.
“To those who missold dangerous products like cladding or insulation, to those who cut corners to save cash as they developed or refurbished people’s homes, and to those who sought to profiteer from the consequences of the Grenfell tragedy – we are coming for you.”
-What is the plan going forward?
During a speech on Monday, the Housing Secretary said that no leaseholder living in a block above 11 metres would have to pay for fixing dangerous problems.
Mr Gove said he was seeking to convene a meeting with industry to find an agreed way, he was ready if necessary to “impose a solution on them in law” to cover the estimated £4 billion costs to deal with the issue.
Potential action also includes restricting access to Government funding and future procurements, the use of planning powers, and pursuing firms through the courts.
Under the plans, leaseholders in buildings between 11 metres and 18 metres tall will no longer have to take out loans to cover the costs of remediation work – despite no new money coming from the Treasury.
Instead, developers have been told to agree to start contributing this year to cover the “full outstanding cost”.
House builders who failed to put in fire breaks, ensure robust internal compartmentation, made & continue to make huge profits through taxpayer funded schemes now upset that they might be held accountable for the own mistakes.#BuildingSafetyCrisis #NotJustCladding https://t.co/tLxU7Fr6TN
— UK Cladding Action Group (@ukcag) January 10, 2022
– What do campaigners and MPs make of the news?
A spokesman for the End Our Cladding Scandal said they welcomed the plans, but said Mr Gove’s talk needed to be backed by “tough action”.
David Renard, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association – which represents 350 councils across England and Wales, warned that leaseholders were “not the only innocent victims” of the scandal.
“The construction industry must also be made to fix the fire safety defects it has built into blocks owned by councils and housing associations,” he said.
Shadow housing secretary Lisa Nandy said it was a “welcome change of tone and some good steps forward”, but warned cash for levelling up schemes or housing projects could be used if the Government fails to make developers pay to fix all building safety defects.
It’s a welcome change of tone and some good steps forward, but the Government’s promise to fix the building safety crisis is unravelling in front of our eyes ⬇️ https://t.co/1ACktH2o0l
— Lisa Nandy (@lisanandy) January 10, 2022
Following questions she posed to Mr Gove in the commons, she tweeted: “It’s now clear Gove doesn’t have permission from the Treasury to raise taxes on developers. So how will he get them to pay up? He can’t say.
“If they don’t pay up who does? Will he raid his levelling up budget instead? Or take money away from affordable and social housing?”
Meanwhile, Stewart Baseley, the executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, accepted that leaseholders should not have to pay for remediation, but said builders should not cover the costs alone.