I have repeatedly urged the Government to move further and faster to address building safety concerns and support people up and down the country who are affected by unsafe cladding on high-rise residential buildings.
I remain concerned, however, that Ministers have been too slow to act. Four years after the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, hundreds of thousands of people are still living in high-rise blocks with flammable cladding.
A House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report said progress on remediation has been “unacceptably slow”, with residents facing exorbitant costs of funding interim safety measures and many residents reporting worsening mental health as a result.
I appreciate and deeply sympathise with the cost, anxiety and stress many leaseholders have endured due to issues for which they bear no fault. I know that leaseholders in blocks with combustible cladding and other dangerous materials have experienced problems in selling their homes and re-mortgaging.
During the passage of the Fire Safety Bill (now Act), I supported Opposition amendments to try and force the Government to honour its promise that remediation costs will not be passed onto leaseholders. The Government disappointingly rejected such amendments on five separate occasions.
Despite promises by Ministers that the Building Safety Bill would include provisions to safeguard leaseholders, the Bill as introduced does not resolve the issue of leaseholders facing huge costs for historic fire safety defects, contradicting previous Government commitments. Indeed, analysis suggests it may worsen the situation for leaseholders, with costs of remediation more likely to be passed on to them as a result of the Bill.
While the Building Safety Bill makes important changes to building regulation and safety, urgent action is still needed to protect people who remain trapped in unsafe homes facing huge bills to fix historic failures. We need legal protections to ensure that millions of pounds of cladding remediation costs are not passed on to innocent homeowners and tenants.
The Bill passed its second reading in July and will progress to committee stage from 9 September 2021, when amendments can be proposed. I am committed, as are the rest of the Opposition frontbench team, to work cross-party, throughout the passage, to get a cast iron guarantee in law that protects leaseholders from unfair and unjust costs.