We need real leadership to resolve the building safety crisis and stand up for leaseholders
Ministerial indecision has meant that the repairs have not taken place, and leaseholders are too often been left footing the bill.
Across the country, leaseholders are still facing enormous bills for building safety works for issues which are not their fault. Today in the House of Lords, I will call on ministers to finally deliver on their promise to make buildings safe and protect leaseholders from the costs of remediation.
The issue was brought to attention in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017. New build safety regulations were introduced with the aim of preventing a repeat of that horrific event. Needless to say, the regulations had cross-party support but when the question arose of who pays to get all homes up to this new standard, there was no similar consensus.
Since then, Labour has continually called on the government to urgently find a solution and help the hundreds of thousands who are still living in unsafe homes. Unfortunately, ministerial indecision has meant that the repairs have not taken place, and leaseholders are too often been left footing the bill.
Families are being left destitute, the stress can seem insurmountable, and livelihoods have been lost
We have all heard horror stories of multi-million-pound bills to bring tower blocks up to standard, but it is worth remembering that behind each headline are real lives which have been torn apart. Families are being left destitute, the stress can seem insurmountable, and livelihoods have been lost. The government, however, has stubbornly refused to find a solution.
Last year the Fire Safety Bill arrive in Parliament, and we all hoped it would finally bring some hope for leaseholders. Labour supported the Bill at Second Reading but when it came down to the later stages, I put forward amendments to strengthen the proposals.
The Bill was the perfect opportunity to bring forward cast iron protections for leaseholders, and we managed to find cross-party support in both Houses, with Conservative parliamentarians voting with us. Unfortunately, the government voted down the protections at every turn, and so they ultimately went no further.
Later, the government announced a Leasehold Reform Bill and once again we hoped this would lead to a lasting solution. Instead, ministers completely ignored the issue of building safety costs, and my attempts to put forward amendments were frustrated by the tight way in which the Bill had been drafted.
In the latest missed opportunity, the Building Safety Bill has been published. My Commons colleague and shadow housing secretary, Lucy Powell has received legal advice to say that the rights of leaseholders would even be made worse, not better by this legislation. It is now clear that the government is not prepared to stand up for leaseholders, but I remain focused on keeping up the pressure.
Today I will raise the issue at Lords oral questions, but Labour’s efforts do not end there. Our shadow housing team are holding ministers’ feet to the fire, with Mike Amesbury also busy highlighting the government’s glaring lack of action.
The team has also proposed plans for a new Building Works Agency, where engineers would assess fire risk, fund remediation work, and then sign off buildings as safe. We need real leadership to resolve the building safety crisis, and if the government are not prepared to stand up for leaseholders, then Labour will.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark is a Labour peer and opposition chief whip in the House of Lords.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.