Government’s handling of cladding crisis attacked by cross-party MPs in damning report

Jonathan Prynn
·4-min read
<p>Workers remove cladding from a tower block</p> (AFP via Getty Images)

Workers remove cladding from a tower block

(AFP via Getty Images)

The Government’s “disappointing” handling of the cladding crisis on Thursday came under attack in a damning report from a cross-party committee of MPs.

Members of the Tory dominated Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee were highly critical of a bail-out package announced by the Government in February for hundreds of thousands of home owners unable to sell flats in potentially dangerous blocks with serious fire safety failings.

Some are facing financial ruin after being told they will have to pay £100,000 or more to make their building compliant with new safety standards introduced after the Grenfell disaster.

The package, unveiled by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, promised an extra £3.5 billion for the removal of cladding from tall buildings over 18m high, and a loan scheme for owners of homes in lower blocks also facing huge bills for putting right safety defects.

However, the committee on Thursday called for the loan scheme to be scrapped, and the £5 billion fund for remediation of dangerous buildings to be dramatically increased so that it can cover the full £15 billion estimated cost of making buildings safe.

The report said: ”It has been our unwavering position that leaseholders should bear no cost whatsoever for the remediation of building safety defects that were not of their making. That is why, while there was much to be welcomed in the Secretary of State’s announcement, there was also much cause for concern.”

It said the loan scheme, under which leaseholders would not have to repay more than £50 a month was flawed, lacking in detail and “does not satisfy the previously agreed principle that leaseholders should not pay.”

Funding ‘swamped by sheer scale of fire safety issues’

The report’s publication comes after the Government on Wednesday night defeated for the fifth time an amendment to its Fire Safety Bill that would have given more protection to leaseholders, despite 32 Tory rebels.

The committee’s chair, Labour MP Clive Betts said the extra £3.5 billion of funding will be “swamped by the sheer scale of fire safety issues”.

He added: “In the years since the Grenfell tragedy, we have been shocked by the reality of the danger that flammable cladding poses, by how pervasive these materials are in modern buildings and by the frequency with which fundamental fire safety measures, including fire breaks and sprinkler systems, are simply not there.

“The government’s recent proposals fail to adhere to the fundamental principle that leaseholders should not have to pay to fix these problems. That is why we have called on the government to enhance support and develop a Comprehensive Building Safety Fund that targets support to where occupants are most at risk, rather than the current height and product-based approach.”

The report, drawn up by a committee made up of six Conservative and five Labour MPs, also recommended the Government scrap its different approach to buildings above and below 18m in height.

It said: “In allocating funds from the Comprehensive Building Safety Fund, the Government should move away from the current height and product based approach and should instead take a holistic risk and evidence based approach that prioritises occupants who are most at risk.”

The committee also called on the Government to work with councils to provide more mental health support to people “trapped in unsafe, unsellable homes.”

It added: ”After a year in which we have spent more time in our homes than ever before, it is vital that affected residents get the mental health support that they need.”

Government says report is ‘deeply flawed’

But a spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government described the report as “deeply flawed.”

He added: “We have been clear throughout that owners and industry should make buildings safe without passing on costs to leaseholders – and we will ensure they pay for the mistakes of the past with a new levy and tax to contribute to the costs of remediation. For lower-rise buildings which have a lower risk, our generous capped finance scheme will ensure bills are a maximum of £50 per month.

“Our approach strikes the right balance in protecting leaseholders and being fair to taxpayers.”

A spokesperson for the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign said: “Today, the cross-party Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee is warning the government, in the strongest possible terms, to completely rethink its whole approach to the building safety crisis.

“Boris Johnson needs to listen to the advice of his own MPs and abandon plans for the cladding tax on hardworking leaseholders, many of whom are first-time buyers. The prime minister has already broken his promises to make sure no leaseholder pays to make their home safe. We won’t let him break that promise again.

“We didn’t design these unsafe buildings, we didn’t approve the buildings, we weren’t the ones who built shoddy flats – we shouldn’t have to pay for a mess billionaire developers and the wider construction industry created.”

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