Michael Gove will push developers to take responsibility for all building safety defects rather than just cladding, according to a leaseholder who described a meeting between the Housing Secretary and campaigners as “largely positive”.
Mr Gove was credited with “putting his shoulder to the wheel” on a long-running high-profile issue, having earlier vowed not to hesitate to introduce a developers’ tax to hit those responsible for dangerous cladding if firms did not voluntarily step up to fix problems.
The minister held a virtual meeting with campaign groups ahead of a statement he is expected to make in Parliament on Monday afternoon.
His comments during the 45-minute meeting marked a welcome change in the Government’s position, said one person affected by the issue.
The source, who did not want to be named, told the PA news agency: “I think the two interesting things that he sort of drew out in a bit more detail is he says when he meets with developers, he is going to ask them to take responsibility for all defects – so cladding and non-cladding defects, which is a shift in position because this has been focused on cladding-only stuff and the non-cladding stuff can cost just as much, if not more, as fixing the cladding stuff.
“So I see that as a positive development. And he also said when the Building Safety Bill goes through the Lords, so sometime in February or March or thereabouts, the Government will amend it to try and protect leaseholders in law from these costs, but he didn’t go into detail as to what that meant.”
The person said Mr Gove was “trying to put the squeeze on developers so they come to the table prepared to put down big money to make this go away”, and had been “putting his shoulder to the wheel” on the issue.
They added: “He’s talking about jeopardising their access to other public subsidy, particularly from Help to Buy, if they don’t play ball.”
Asked if they were happy with the tone of what they heard at the meeting, the leaseholder said: “Definitely. I mean, it’s about time.”
During a round of broadcast interviews ahead of the meeting, Mr Gove said it was time for those with “the big bucks, the big profits” to act to remedy the fire safety risks, as he announced that developers must agree to a £4 billion plan to fix dangerous cladding on low-rise flats by early March or risk new laws forcing them to act.
Mr Gove told Sky News: “We want to say to developers and indeed all those who have a role to play in recognising their responsibility that we want to work with them.
“But if it’s the case that it’s necessary to do so, then we will use legal means and ultimately, if necessary, the tax system in order to ensure that those who have deep pockets, those who are responsible for the upkeep of these buildings, pay – rather than the leaseholders, the individuals, who in the past were being asked to pay with money they didn’t have for a problem that they did not cause.”
Leaseholders in buildings between 11m (36ft) and 18m (59ft) tall will, in a Government U-turn, no longer have to take out loans to cover the costs of remediation work despite no new money coming from the Treasury.
Instead, Mr Gove told developers to agree to start contributing this year to cover the “full outstanding cost”, which he estimates to be £4 billion.
He said “some of the most egregious cases” had already been tackled.
He added that there had been a “particular problem in the system” which “means that people have themselves to come forward and say ‘We believe that this building needs work’,” something he said had resulted in him not knowing the precise number of properties that still needed work.
He told LBC: “We can’t be absolutely precise about the exact number in scope. That is one of the things that I hope that we can do in conversation with owners and with developers at the moment.”
In a letter to the residential property development industry being sent on Monday, Mr Gove set a deadline of “early March” to publicly accept his ultimatum and provide a “fully-funded plan of action”.
They were also ordered to provide comprehensive information on all buildings taller than 11m that have fire-safety defects and which they helped to construct in the past 30 years.
Reece Lipman said that as things stand, while he owns 25% of his flat in Romford, east London, he is currently liable for “100% of fixing all the costs”.
The 32-year-old said Mr Gove “has got the rhetoric right and is now talking with a much firmer tone”, but insisted that what has been seen as “just a cladding crisis” is in fact “a full-blown building safety crisis” and likened the Government’s action to date as akin to bailing “water off the Titanic with pots and pans”.
Mr Gove admitted the Government “did get stuff wrong” in the cladding scandal, but he said some of those who argued they were abiding by building regulations at the time did not have a “strong case”.
He told LBC: “It’s also the case that there were lots of steps that were taken which put people at risk, and without wanting to pre-empt what the independent inquiry into Grenfell will conclude, I think it is… you would be hard-pressed to say that putting, essentially, sheets of liquid petrol encased in metal on the side of a tower block was the right thing to do.”
The Fire Brigades Union said the Government’s latest move was “a result of determined campaigning by leaseholders and tenants”.
The union’s general secretary, Matt Wrack, said: “It shows that the Government can be pressured into progress, and we commend the efforts of campaigners.
“We have always been clear here – residents should not carry any cost for failure they did not cause. Developers, suppliers and buildings owners are responsible, and they should pay.”
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.