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Government cannot continue with 'sticking plaster solutions' to meet fire safety standards

Government cannot continue with 'sticking plaster solutions' to meet fire safety standards

Our constituents are facing huge remedial work bills of tens of thousands of pounds, writes Stephen McPartland MP and Royston Smith MP. | PA Images

Royston Smith MP and Stephen McPartland MP

4 min read

It is astonishing that leaseholders have been left to cover 100% of the costs to make buildings safe. This should be the government's responsibility.

Recently, we started a campaign to support leaseholders living in high-rise private residential buildings that do not meet fire safety standards through no fault of their own. Our constituents are facing huge remedial work bills of tens of thousands of pounds and cannot sell or re-mortgage their homes in the meantime. MPs must understand it affects pretty much every leasehold flat in the country, whether it is a bit of wood on a balcony, to safe cladding with defects underneath.

These problems arise because after the Grenfell disaster, the government retrospectively decided that certain building materials, such as High-Pressure Laminate (HPL) and aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, are no longer safe.

In normal circumstances, building regulations do not apply retrospectively. If the government decided our constituents’ homes satisfied fire safety standards when they were built, but then subsequently evaluated they are so unsafe that remedial actions must be put in place immediately— who should be responsible for the costs? Currently, they are being passed on to leaseholders.

The government is trying to act, but it has been over three years and they are not tackling all the issues. For example, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government issued a consolidated guidance note in January that resulted in all high-rise residential buildings being dragged into the External Wall System (EWS1) form, even though this form is only suitable for buildings above 18 metres in height.

It is welcome news that buildings without cladding will no longer require an EWS1 form. Still, it is a sticking plaster solution and continues to leave millions of leaseholders behind. 

Given government’s clear preference to remove unsafe cladding from our constituents’ homes as soon as possible, they should consider a more relaxed approach to Building Safety Fund approval

The £1 billion Building Safety Fund aimed at removing unsafe cladding, announced in March, was also welcomed. Yet nine months on, no further certainty is afforded to our constituents.

They are still waiting to hear about the outcome of the Building Safety Fund. Section 20 consultations on the remedial cladding costs at the high-rise residential blocks would have begun, ensuring these buildings are ready to commence work on site by 31st March 2021 – a stipulation required to be eligible for government funding.

It is astonishing that leaseholders in shared ownership properties, who may own 10% of the property, are responsible for 100% of the costs on remedial work to make the buildings safe. This is not acceptable or fair. 

There are lots of options and solutions to support the millions of leaseholders that are being left behind. We are working with the UK Cladding Action Group to explore how the government can support homeowners.

Freeholders do not have the cash flow to take on the costs of the remedial work, which are often in the region of several million pounds. The government could easily offer them loans at Public Works Loan Board rates. Local authorities have access to such loan rates and grants to resolve any cashflow issues. Freeholders do not, and this leaves leaseholders having to pick up the full costs upfront.

The EWS1 form is required due to poor fire safety standard design on the part of property developers. Given government’s clear preference to remove unsafe cladding from our constituents’ homes as soon as possible, they should consider a more relaxed approach to Building Safety Fund approval, and subsequently levying the property development industry to meet remedial costs in the long run.

Leaseholders have already spent tens of thousands of pounds for interim fire safety measures, such as waking night watch. They have little resources left to take legal action against property developers and insurers.

Home ownership is one of the Conservative party’s fundamental values; our manifesto committed to building more new homes in the 2019 General Election. Surely, finding ways to keep our constituents’ homes safe echoes our values, and is the responsibility of this government.

 

Stephen McPartland is the Conservative MP for Stevenage and Royston Smith is the Conservative MP for Southampton Itchen.

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