Building Safety and Cladding: Putney

Neil O'Brien Excerpts
Friday 21st January 2022

(6 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Neil O'Brien Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Neil O'Brien)
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I commend the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) on having secured this important debate. It is a matter that Members of all parties feel deeply about, and the hon. Member spoke passionately, forensically and on a very important subject for the residents of all the different developments she mentioned. As she knows, the Government are taking action by resetting our approach to building safety while introducing substantial reforms through the Building Safety Bill and strengthening the fire safety order. From listening to the cases that she mentioned in her speech, it was clear why we are right to do so.

Let me directly address the question that the hon. Member asked at the end of her speech. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a statement to the House last week that set out some of the bold steps we are taking to greatly speed up cladding remediation and ensure that the polluter truly does pay for the building safety defects that they themselves created. The Government recognise that the previous position on building safety remediation, predicated on building owners and developers voluntarily doing the right thing, was not working. The hon. Member asked whether we could bring those developers to the table: this week, the Secretary of State did exactly that, chairing a roundtable with the country’s largest developers. It was a positive meeting in which they agreed that leaseholders should not pay—a very important principle—and we will continue to engage with those developers to ensure that they deliver a fully funded action plan by early March, because we do appreciate the urgency of this issue.

As the hon. Member pointed out, leaseholders are blameless, yet many have been hit hard with expensive bills for cladding remediation that they simply cannot pay. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced the principles that will underpin our renewed approach to building safety. First, we must take a proportionate approach to building assessment overall. Too many buildings are being judged to require expensive remediation or mitigation, and leaseholders have too often become the victims of an over-cautious approach that goes beyond what is necessary. Secondly, we must protect ordinary leaseholders from shouldering the costs for remediation and mitigation of fire risks. Thirdly, the industries at fault must pay. Those who built and contributed to our stock of unsafe buildings, and those who continue to cut corners in building safety, must pay to fix these defects, instead of taxpayers or leaseholders. Finally, we must hold to account those individuals and companies that have—and continue to—knowingly put lives at risk.

The hon. Member for Putney raised an important question about proportionality. Advice from industry experts last July reinforced something that all hon. Members will know—that fires in homes, including in multi-storey homes—are thankfully rare. Data also shows that the vast majority of buildings will not need very expensive remediation, so we are making assessments more proportionate and will withdraw the consolidated advice note, which in too many cases was used as an excuse for excessive risk aversion.

The British Standards Institution has also published its new PAS 9980 guidance for assessing risk in external walls, which should enable much more proportionate and consistent assessments, rather than the binary ones that have become prevalent, in which the presence of combustible wall materials is thought always to require expensive remediation, even when we know that that is not always the case. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is reviewing the building safety fund to ensure that it is risk-driven and reflects the Government’s position on proportionality. We have already allocated £976 million of funding from the building safety fund, and will open the next phase early this year. We are working to progress eligible applicants through the application process quickly and diligently, because many tenants cannot wait, as the hon. Member for Putney pointed out.

It is important to remember, however, that we are reliant on building owners and managing agents providing the necessary information to us, so that we can process their application without delay. As I come to talk about some of the particular places mentioned by the hon. Member, we will see that that is an important point. To that end, we will also provide expert support to assist with the planning and delivery of remediation, which can be a complex construction project. We will also be providing an additional £3.5 billion to cover the cost of addressing fire safety risks caused by unsafe cladding on all eligible buildings.

The hon. Member pointed out that it is crucial to protect leaseholders. We completely agree that these people, who find themselves in difficulty through no fault of their own, must be protected. The Government had already committed to leaseholders in buildings over 18 metres not paying for cladding remediation, and last week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pledged that leaseholders living in their own flats in medium and high-rise buildings should not have to pay a penny to remediate historical cladding defects. In doing so, he also scrapped the proposal for loans and long-term debt for medium-rise leaseholders; instead, the industry will be expected to pay.

My right hon. Friend also announced practical and immediate measures to relieve leaseholders from the financial and emotional burdens that they have been forced to endure. A further £27 million is being allocated to bring the misuse of waking watches to an end. That is on top of the current £35 million fund, which is already being used for 323 buildings and nearly 25,000 leasehold homes. We estimate that that fund will save leaseholders an average of £163 each month, and we expect to open the expanded fund very shortly. It is by no means acceptable that leaseholders can be at risk of losing their homes as a result of building safety defects, and we will be working across Government to ensure that leaseholders are protected from the risk of forfeiture related to historical building safety issues until a new industry-developed system is in place.

We will be exploring further statutory protections for leaseholders, and I have asked my Department’s officials to engage with parliamentary colleagues on a cross-party basis to consider that during the Bill’s passage in the other place. A key part of the process is enabling homeowners to pursue claims for defective work from those responsible, which is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will introduce an amendment to the Building Safety Bill to extend the right of homeowners to challenge defects under the Defective Premises Act 1972 in homes that are up to 30 years old.

In the time remaining, I am keen to talk about some of the specific places that the hon. Lady mentioned. I thank her for drawing attention to several of the developments in her constituency; let me set out the Department’s response to each of them.

Chapelier House has had £8.5 million of funding approved for ACM and non-ACM cladding remediation, and works are in progress, with ACM cladding expected to be removed by the end of April this year. Remediation has been completed for 1, 3, 5 and 7 Eastfields Avenue. For Coptain House and Mandel House, £6.9 million of funding has been approved for non-ACM cladding remediation. For 5D Enterprise Way, £1.5 million of funding has been approved for non-ACM cladding remediation.

The Swish building is eligible for funding under the building safety fund. The full works-and-costs application for the building, including the scope of works and costings, is currently being finalised. The buildings at 2, 6 and 8 Hardwicks Square are eligible for funding under the building safety fund and pre-tender support has been paid to facilitate the appointment of a project team for them.

A building safety fund registration has been submitted for the Radial development, owned by Godfather Investments, which the hon. Lady mentioned. As I said earlier, further information has been requested from the applicant so that eligibility can be determined, but it has not yet been provided. I hope that the people responsible are listening to this debate and we can get the information we need to move ahead quickly.

The works to remove unsafe ACM cladding at the Filaments development have been completed for three buildings, subject to building control sign-off. As the hon. Lady acknowledged and we should acknowledge, those works were funded by the developer. A building safety fund registration in respect of non-ACM cladding has been submitted for the Filaments development and further information has been requested from the applicant so that eligibility can be determined but, again, it has not been provided. Again, I hope that the people responsible are listening to this debate and we can move ahead quickly.

The hon. Lady mentioned Mill Court and Lord Greenhalgh’s interventions. In December, Lord Greenhalgh and officials met the National Housing Federation and Optivo, which has committed to reviewing all remediation requirements following the withdrawal of the consolidated advice note and the publication of PAS9980 last week. The Department has regular engagement with the NHF and housing associations. The Government have been clear that if remediation, rather than mitigation or management, is still required for buildings under 18 meters, it has to be very clearly justified and communicated to leaseholders. In the specific case of Mill Court, should Optivo continue with the proposed remediation works, we would expect it to explain clearly why management or mitigation was not suitable. I am sure that, like some of the other organisations involved, Optivo will listen to the hon. Lady’s speech and this debate and will want to come to a sensible conclusion.

Before I conclude, let me touch on the Building Safety Bill, which is the biggest shake-up of our building safety regime in nearly 40 years and will have a real legacy of lasting change and reform. The Bill’s remaining stages in this House concluded earlier this week and it has now been introduced in the other place. It is a landmark Bill and part of a package of legislative changes to move things forward and to make sure the problems that Dame Judith Hackitt identified with the current building and fire safety regime are rectified for good. The package includes the measures in the Building Safety Bill, the Fire Safety Act 2021 and the changes to the fire safety order. The new, strengthened regime will allow major fire and structural hazards to be effectively managed, mitigated and remediated.

There is a completely united desire among Members from all parties to make sure that people feel safe and are safe in their own homes. Debates such as this are important so that developers can note the discussion in the House. Together, we can work on a cross-party basis to solve the hugely important issues that the hon. Lady touched on, which are of such high importance to her constituents.

Question put and agreed to.