Private Tower Blocks: Removal of Cladding

Part of Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee) – in the House of Commons at 7:43 pm on 29th April 2019.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Labour, Poplar and Limehouse 7:43 pm, 29th April 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Rushanara Ali, my parliamentary neighbour, on securing this important debate and on representing the plight of her constituents so powerfully. It is a pleasure to follow her.

I am pleased that both the Minister for Housing and the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service have been listening to my hon. Friend’s presentation of her issues, and will be listening to the rest of us, who have an opportunity to contribute that was not entirely expected. I am grateful for the chance. There have been a number of opportunities to discuss this issue over recent months. On 9 April, I raised New Providence Wharf in my constituency, and the reluctance of the developer and freeholder, Ballymore, to conform to the Government’s expectation that it would cover the costs necessary for fire safety work for residents.

I gently remind the Minister for Housing, for whom I have the highest regard, as I have for the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, that I was promised a written update. I have yet to receive that correspondence. I would be grateful if he ensured that his office got that out for me. My constituents are asking me about it; it is only fair that I pass that on.

I want to mention the Inside Housing campaign, “End our Cladding Scandal”. Last Friday, the publication launched a new campaign that calls on the Government to act and end the scandal of residents trapped in private residential blocks with dangerous cladding. The all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform has backed the campaign, as have many MPs, the National Housing Federation, the Chartered Institute of Housing, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Fire Brigades Union and Grenfell United.

The campaign has three main aims: the Government should provide a fund to cover the cost of cladding removal and remedial works on private blocks—as they have, very positively, for the social sector; the Government should set out a firm timescale of no more than two years for the work to be carried out; and residents should be reimbursed for the interim fire safety costs incurred, and funding should be provided for necessary internal fire safety measures identified by a competent fire risk assessor. Will the Minister comment on that campaign?

Furthermore, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow mentioned in her introduction, the UK Cladding Action Group has conducted a mental, social and physical health survey to support its campaign. Its key findings are that nearly 65% of respondents said that, as a direct result of the ongoing situation, their mental health has been hugely affected. More than 85% stated that their mental health is worse now than it was before the ongoing situation. Almost 70% of live-in leaseholders said that they feel anxious and/or worried daily when they think of their future in relation to the ongoing situation. More than 90% of respondents said that they have money worries. Some 84% said they felt unsupported by the Government, and more than 60% said that they had worries about their family members’ safety. Is the Minister aware of this survey, and have the Government given a response?

Finally, the Association of British Insurers has supplied a briefing for this debate. It does not really cover the issue of Government funding for removal of defective material, but it does call for a renewed testing framework, for fire sprinklers for buildings above 18 metres or even 11 metres in height, and for more urgent reassessment of modern methods of construction and building regulations generally, as both Ministers on the Treasury Bench are aware.

This is more than an important issue; as my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow said, it is critical to tens of thousands of our constituents. We are indebted to her for securing this debate, and for giving the Minister another opportunity to state the Government’s position. That position is supported across the House, but we want more developers to support what the Government expect them to support.