Michael Gove has told parliament that legislation will be amended to ensure leaseholders in high rise buildings do not pay for tackling inadequate fire stopping and compartmentation work
The government says it will extend new commitments to protect leaseholders against the cost of non-safe cladding to cover other historic fire safety issues such as inadequate compartmentation.
A raft of new measures to address building fire safety issues in England were unveiled by the government this week. These measures will require developers and cladding companies to pay for unsafe work they have overseen in buildings of 11m or higher.
Opposition parties have said that the proposals must also ensure that other historical fire safety defects – those not involving cladding materials – are also included in the scope of revised legislation to prevent leaseholders paying for remediation.
Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, has told the House of Commons that additional commitments would also be introduced at a later date to deal with non-cladding related issues that risk undermining fire safety in high rise buildings. He claimed these would address occupant concerns about the cost of introducing effective fire stopping and compartmentation. This could have an impact on building engineering and HVAC specialists.
Under the new proposals published this week, the industry is now being given two months to agree an action plan with the government concerning funding cladding remediation costs that are estimated at £4bn.
Mr Gove said in a letter that any new deal with industry would involve agreeing a dedicated fund to cover outstanding costs of unsafe cladding in buildings over 11m high.
Company’s working in the sector are also being asked to provide comprehensive information on buildings over 11m that have historic fire safety defects and that they have played “a part in constructing” over the last 30 years.
A failure to reach an industry agreement over the next two months will see the government impose its own solution to cover cladding removal costs. Possible solutions could include relying on clauses in the Building Safety Bill would allow the government to create a levy on high rise buildings developers. This could be implemented separately to an existing 4 per cent tax on large, profitable developers introduced in the last Budget.
Mr Gove said that a “new dedicated team” was being established in his department that would pursue and reveal companies at fault with regards to fire safety issues.
Response to changes
Dame Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety launched following the Grenfell Tower Fire in 2017, said the latest announcement from government was a welcome step to tackle unsafe cladding.
She stated, “It should come as a great relief to the many leaseholders who have felt trapped by the prospect of having to pay for remediating defects to properties which they bought in good faith.”
“Those who caused the problem now need to step up, take responsibility and show some leadership. This problem has gone on for too long and we need a rapid solution, not months of debate and negotiation leaving innocent leaseholders in further limbo.”
Lisa Nandy MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said she welcomed the government’s announcement as a welcome shift in tone around how industry must fully covers costs of defective cladding.
However, responding to the new leaseholder protections in parliament on 10 January, she accused the government of leaving a “gaping hole” in it plans to address fire safety cost commitments concerning non-classing related defects.
Who pays for non-cladding work?
Ms Nandy said that leaseholders would continue to face ‘ruinous costs’ to fix other fire safety issues such as defective compartmentation and missing fire breaks.
She said, “You cannot make a building half safe. Given that he recognises the injustice of all leaseholders caught up in the building safety crisis. Why is he abandoning those hit with bills for non-cladding defects?”
Mr Gove was asked if he would therefore agree to amend legislation to ensure leaseholders are protected against non-cladding historical defects in law.
Labour has called for amendments to be introduced as quickly possible to the Building Safety Bill to ensure statutory protection.
Mr Gove said he agreed that non-cladding costs do need to be met and claimed the government would act on this.
He said, “That is our intention. We intend to bring forward those amendments and I look forward in working with her and colleagues across the house to provide the most robust legal action.”