On the 29 September 2020, I wrote to Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Building Safety, to raise several concerns about the Government’s slow progress towards making buildings safe. You can see my letter in full below:
Dear Lord Greenhalgh,
Thank you for your reply. I have forwarded it to my constituents.
I am glad to know that the Government will be working to ensure that EWS1 forms are not required for properties where they are very unlikely to be necessary, and that engagement with mortgage valuers and providers is ongoing. These actions could enable at least some of my beleaguered constituents to escape the properties in which they have been trapped, and I hope you are able to reach some successful conclusions very soon.
However, I was disappointed that there was no substantive engagement with a number of the specific points I made about the history and special Governmental responsibilities that apply to the East Village. Nor have you responded to my concerns about the significant further funding that may be necessary to avoid leaseholders either being given completely unfair bills for restitution or left in limbo for years while developers and freeholders engage in interminable legal battles.
I am concerned, based upon your letter, that the Government is refusing to recognise the scale and urgency of this problem. Inside Housing has reported estimates that the Fund has enough money to cover remediation of just 450-600 buildings, while almost 3000 have been registered.
I can only repeat the concerns I have already expressed. I believe the existing Fund will fail to cover a very large proportion of the remediation that will be required across the country. As a result, there is an unacceptable possibility that leaseholders in the East Village and elsewhere in my constituency could be left in limbo for many years to come, faced with unaffordable and unfair bills for remediation work, or both.
To prevent this situation from worsening, I believe the Government will have to commit further funding up-front, and then seek repayment from those actually responsible for building safety problems over the following years. I would gently suggest that the Government might be better off committing to this strategy sooner rather than later, and in this regard, it is perhaps unfortunate that the next Budget has been pushed back into next year.
It is true that, as you detail in your reply to me, many non-Governmental, independent or arms-length bodies are involved in resolving the complicated issues that are preventing fire safety guarantees from being made. However, the Government bears ultimate responsibility for protecting residents from unsafe buildings and from unfair burdens, and to the extent that those external bodies are unable to act, failing to act, or to act quickly, the Government must ensure that changes.
The lines of ongoing work that you mention in your letter, e.g. on the numbers of qualified assessors, on Professional Indemnity Insurance, on the applicability of EWS1 forms, and on mortgage valuations, are welcome. Nevertheless, I do not detect any sense that these workstreams will provide solutions within weeks or months. I would be grateful for further details on the timescales for this work, and for a response to the wider points raised in my previous letter.
I would also like to note that there is significant concern about Clause 88 of the draft Building Safety Bill, which creates a specific legal responsibility for leaseholders to pay for any ‘reasonably incurred’ building safety costs. This appears to violate the Government commitment, which has been made repeatedly over recent years, that individual leaseholders would not be made to bear the costs of remediation in privately owned blocks. Even worse, it is not clear that there will be any limit on the amounts that individual leaseholders could be required to pay, so long as the building costs have, from a quality, cost control, and building safety perspective, been ‘reasonably incurred’.
I have to ask if the Government is abandoning its commitment. Does the Government now think it is fair for the burden to be borne by innocent victims of the building safety scandal, rather than the irresponsible, or indeed criminal, perpetrators of it within the building industry? Does the Government think it is fair for individual leaseholders to pay when they generally have very little means in comparison to the many gigantic developers and freehold-owning firms who possess enormous wealth?
Finally, I would like to raise one further point of detail. Some East Village residents in a Shared Ownership scheme who are currently trapped in their homes and in increasing financial distress would like the freeholder to repurchase their flats from them, enabling them to move on. The freeholders and management company have reportedly refused this as a possibility on the following grounds:
‘We are unable to support this suggestion because of the commitments in our funding agreement to provide shared ownership at East Village. We received significant levels of government grant to provide this form of housing and supporting sales to [the freeholder] are not in the spirit of this agreement and may breach our obligations. ‘
I would be grateful if you would clarify this. If the Government’s shared ownership scheme terms, or a misinterpretation of such, are responsible for preventing repurchases of leases that would alleviate the burden on my constituents, I believe this needs to be remedied swiftly.
Thank you again for your reply, I look forward to reading your further response soon.