Finally it looks as though the cladding crisis is getting the attention it deserves. While the Prime Minister fights off accusations of sleaze, his former pro-Brexit campaign-mate Michael Gove seems determined to come up smelling of roses.
The new Housing Secretary is shaking things up at the newly created Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Having already called a halt to his predecessor’s planning reforms and put them under review, last month the DLUHC produced a whole tranche of new regulations and factsheets to support the Building Safety Bill. Attention has now turned to cladding.
In a meeting of the House of Commons Housing Committee held on 8 November, the Secretary of State was quite clear that he is not in favour of leaseholders paying for remediation of their badly built blocks. What a breath of fresh air. This has been said before but the Government rapidly back-tracked and proposed a loan scheme for flat owners in blocks that don’t meet the criteria for the £5bn Building Safety Fund. However, this was mooted 18 months ago and has failed to materialise.
Michael Gove appears to have grasped the complexities of the cladding crisis. He intimated to members of the committee that developers and freeholders have been at fault in the past for ‘value engineering’ high-rise buildings to get the cheapest – but not always the best or safest – cladding solutions and that he is not inclined to let them off the hook. He acknowledged in no uncertain terms that leaseholders are not at fault, saying “My question is, why do they have to pay at all?”
This will be music to the ears of flat owners who are trapped in a situation that is beyond their control and costing them dearly for every single day of Government inaction. So what next?
Michael Gove’s intention appears to be to look at the possibility of a ‘polluter pays’ approach to cladding costs. This is something which has already been proposed by Stephen McPartland the Conservative MP for Stevenage, who is expected to table an amendment to this effect when the Building Safety Bill is brought back to Parliament for debate.
However, as Michael Gove told the committee, ultimately the way in which any financial help for leaseholders is designed and distributed is up to the Chancellor. Let’s hope that when proposals are fine-tuned, Rishi Sunak is in listening mode too.
Author : Maryanne Bowring
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