With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the major package of reforms to the building safety system that I am announcing today.
The Government are committed to bringing about the biggest change in building safety for a generation. We took action to address the fire safety risks identified following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and in the autumn we committed to adopting in full the recommendations of the Grenfell Tower inquiry phase 1 report. We will shortly publish our response to the phase 1 report, and a full debate is scheduled tomorrow for the House to discuss this important issue at length. The focus of this statement will be on the wider programme of building safety reforms and the work that I am leading to ensure that everyone is safe, and feels safe, in their own home.
The Government have already taken steps, including on aluminium composite material remediation, to tackle fire safety, but as that work continues, it becomes ever more evident that problems have developed over many decades, leading to serious incidents and the risk of further loss of life. This is completely unacceptable. It is clear that the problems will take many years to put right, but all of us—building owners, the construction industry, local authorities, the fire service and the Government—have an absolute duty to ensure that action continues to be taken as quickly as possible so that a tragedy such as the one at Grenfell Tower can never happen again.
There has been progress, but it has been unacceptably slow, so today I am setting out reforms that go further, and I intend to ensure that they do so faster. First, we will begin immediately to establish the new building safety regulator. This new regulator will be established within the Health and Safety Executive, which is an experienced regulator and is committed to introducing the new regulatory regime at pace. Ahead of legislation, the regulator will initially be in shadow form, and I am pleased to announce that Dame Judith Hackitt will chair a board to oversee the transition to this new regime. I expect the shadow regulator to be established within weeks, and we will be recruiting the first national chief inspector of buildings.
Secondly, our consultation on sprinklers and other measures for new build flats has now closed. I am carefully considering the responses and evidence received, but I can inform the House today that I am minded to lower the height threshold for sprinkler requirements in new buildings from 18 metres to 11 metres. Subject to further consideration, I will set out my detailed proposals in that respect in February.
Thirdly, we banned the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise buildings in December 2018. My Department concluded a review into the ban’s effectiveness, and today I am announcing a consultation on the ban, again going significantly further, including by lowering the 18 metre height threshold to at most 11 metres.
Fourthly, my Department, with support from the independent expert advisory panel, has provided advice for building owners on the steps they should be taking to address a range of safety risks. We have listened to feedback, and I am today publishing updated advice that will provide the further clarity they have sought. This advice brings together 22 separate advice notes into one consolidated document.
There is evidence that there has not been enough focus among building owners on buildings below 18 metres. The expert panel has decided to clarify that more action is needed to review the risks in buildings below 18 metres, and owners of those buildings should review the advice and take action where needed. I want to be clear with the House that it has never been the case that, simply because a building is below 18 metres, owners are exempt from ensuring the safety of their residents. The requirement on building owners is to make sure buildings of any height are safe, and I expect all owners to be acting responsibly.
The panel’s new advice makes clear that ACM cladding with an unmodified polyethylene core should not be used on buildings of any height. This reflects the evidence from the materials research programme, which to date has confirmed that ACM presents a much higher risk than any other materials tested when used on the external walls of buildings.
The consolidated advice note also clarifies the actions building owners should now take in relation to fire doors. I welcome the commitment from members of the Association of Composite Door Manufacturers to work with building owners to remediate their doors that have failed tests, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Fifthly, I am today publishing a call for evidence seeking views on the assessment and prioritisation of risks associated with external wall systems, such as cladding, within existing buildings. For many years, we have relied on crude height limits with binary consequences, and it is clear to me that this approach to assessing risk does not reflect the complexity of the challenge at hand. I have concluded that we need a better, more sophisticated system to underpin our approach. Height will remain a significant and material factor, but it will sit alongside a broader range of risk factors. I am therefore today commissioning leading experts in the field to develop, as quickly as possible, a sophisticated matrix of risk that will replace the historic system and underpin our approach to future regulatory regimes.
Sixthly, while I welcome recent progress, remediation of unsafe ACM cladding, especially in the private sector, is still far too slow. This absolutely cannot continue, particularly when funding is now being provided by the taxpayer. Although all unsafe ACM cladding now has mitigation safety measures in place where required, I do not underestimate the concern of residents living in buildings where remediation has not even started.
The latest data show that, out of 92 buildings in scope, 82 applications have been made to the private sector ACM cladding remediation fund, and that the 10 for which applications have not been made have exceptional circumstances, which I have reviewed. However, an application to the fund is not an end in itself; that can never be sufficient. Construction work to remediate these buildings should be proceeding as quickly as possible. We will therefore be appointing an independent construction expert to review remediation timescales and identify what can be done to increase the pace in the private sector.
Inaction must have consequences. From next month, I will name those responsible for buildings where remediation has not started and remove them from the public list only when it has. My Department will be working with the relevant local authorities to drive enforcement where necessary. The Home Secretary will deliver the fire safety Bill and associated regulatory changes in order to enable delivery of the recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry phase 1 report. The proposed Bill will place beyond doubt that external wall systems, including cladding and the fire doors to individual flats in multi-occupied residential blocks, fall within the scope of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. These changes will affirm the ability to enforce locally against building owners who have not remediated unsafe ACM buildings. Building owners and developers who have not already taken action must do so now. Further delay is not acceptable.
Finally, I am aware of the concerns of leaseholders about meeting the cost of remediation. As I do not want cost to be a barrier to remediation, I am considering, with Her Majesty’s Treasury, options to support leaseholders. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor and I will set out further details in due course.
The safety of people in their homes is paramount. Through the reforms that I have outlined today, I want to make it clear that this Government will not falter in doing whatever it takes to ensure that all buildings and all residents are made safe. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of his statement this afternoon.
The Secretary of State will remember, as we all do, the shocking disbelief and grief in the immediate aftermath of the dreadful Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, and he will remember, as I do, the solemn undertakings from all parts of this House to make sure that such a fire could never happen again. I never thought that, two and a half years later, I would be standing here facing a Secretary of State—the third Secretary of State—who still cannot say that all the necessary action has been taken and that a fire like Grenfell cannot happen again in Britain.
Directly after the fire, the then Prime Minister made this promise on behalf of the Conservative Government:
“Landlords have a legal obligation to provide safe buildings…We cannot and will not ask people to live in unsafe homes.”—[Official Report,
Yet thousands of people continue to live in unsafe homes, condemned to do so by this Government’s failure on all fronts after Grenfell. Why, two and a half years later, are 315 high-rise blocks still cloaked in the same Grenfell-style cladding? Why do 76 of these blocks’ owners not even have a plan in place to replace the deadly cladding? Why have 91 social tower block landlords still not replaced their ACM cladding, when this Secretary of State promised that it would be done by the end of last year? And why have the Government not completed and published full fire safety tests on other unsafe, but not ACM, types of cladding? Why has the Secretary of State had nothing to say this afternoon in his statement on these points?
The Secretary of State has made pledges of his own on Grenfell action. He promised
“to take action of a scale and a pace that is commensurate with the tragedy that prompted it.”—[Official Report,
Seventy-two lives were lost in that Grenfell Tower fire, yet there have been no prosecutions, no fire safety fund to retrofit sprinklers, no legislation to make private block owners, not leaseholders, pay the safety work costs, and still no legislation in place to overhaul building safety legislation more than 20 months after the Government’s own Hackitt review was published and accepted in full by Ministers.
I know that the Secretary of State has approached this task with a very serious intent since he was appointed in the summer, and we welcome the setting up of a national regulator to do the job that Ministers and the Department have been unable to do so far. I also welcome the decision to name and shame block owners who will not do the work, and the recognition that the system of building safety checks and controls does not just affect buildings of over six storeys.
There have been 21 announcements on building safety in this House since Grenfell, but there are still not enough answers and there is still not enough action, so let me ask the Secretary of State: given that the new building safety regulator will need legislation to underpin it, when will the new draft building safety Bill be published, and when on earth is it actually going to reach the statute book?
The Secretary of State has said this afternoon that ACM cladding with an unmodified polyethylene core should not be used on buildings of any height. How many additional buildings does he estimate fall into this category? Also, why wait a month to name and shame block owners who will not do the work? Why not do it now? In fact, why did he not do it in June, when I previously called for him to do so? And why has he not restated to the House that June 2020—fully three years on from Grenfell—is the Government’s hard deadline for the full removal and replacement of ACM cladding from all tower blocks in this country? I am afraid that this is too little, at least two years too late.
At every stage since Grenfell, Ministers have failed to grasp the scale of the problems or the scale of the Government action required, and I fear that we will reach the third anniversary—and, Lord forbid, the fourth anniversary—and still not be able to say to people with confidence that a fire like Grenfell can never happen again in Britain.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his questions and the tone with which he approaches this task. I think we can find a lot of common cause on this issue.
The right hon. Gentleman says that we have not done enough. This is an extremely challenging task, but the Government have already taken a wide range of steps of which he is aware. We announced the independent inquiry, the first phase of which has now reported, and the second phase of which will begin on
We launched the social sector ACM cladding remediation fund in 2018, and that has led to a very large number of properties having remediation work on ACM cladding. We later extended that to the private sector. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that it is frustrating that the pace of work has not been faster. I am frustrated by it. I said to the House in September that I would name and shame building owners who had not already commenced work or who were not taking the issue sufficiently seriously. I think that threat contributed to an increase in action from building owners, and now every private sector building with ACM cladding—bar 10—has a plan and is working with my Department to commence or complete remediation works. The 10 buildings that have not done so already are in exceptional circumstances; they are mostly buildings that have only recently been discovered to be clad in ACM, so they are late to join the process. We are none the less working to expedite those cases to ensure that they get moving at pace. I have said that we will publish that list next month, so it will happen within a matter of weeks. I hope that that will be a further spur on those building owners to do the right thing and get moving.
We have set out today a very significant set of measures that will have a profound effect on the industry, particularly on new buildings built in the years ahead. I have said that I am minded, subject to the final review of the consultation, to lower the height threshold for sprinklers. We have to be guided by evidence. Dame Judith and our expert panel suggest that it is too crude to say that all high-rise buildings should be remediated and have retro-fitted sprinklers—that we need to take an individual-building approach, because it might be the right thing for some buildings but not for all. I will certainly, as long as I am in this job, be guided by the evidence.
We have set up the protection board that I announced last year, which is working with the Home Office, with my Department and with fire and rescue services on a priority basis to assess those buildings where assessments have not yet been made and ensure that the building owners take action.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about legislation. We announced in the Queen’s Speech last year that the building safety Bill would come forward. Following the outcome of the first phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry, I took the view that that was too long to wait, and so we have now divided the work into two Bills, one of which will come forward very swiftly—a fire safety Bill. That will place into legislation the recommendations of the judge that require legislation; some require regulatory change rather than primary legislation. Later this year, we will follow that with the larger, more complex building safety Bill, which we intend to publish before the summer recess. That will be the biggest change to our building safety regime for 40 years. I do not underestimate the complexity of that, and it is obviously right that we get the details correct so that we can move forwards.
Order. I am aiming to run this statement until about 20 past 4.
There will be a welcome for the announcement about the role of Dame Judith Hackitt.
Many points will be made in the next half hour or so, but I want to concentrate on two. First, the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership and the all-party parliamentary group on leasehold and commonhold reform were the first to point out the difficulties of private leaseholders in these tower blocks. When the Secretary of State and his Department work closely with the LKP and with the all-party group, we will not have all the answers, but I commend to him the fact that we can certainly point to many of the questions and some of the problems as well.
Additionally, may I commend what Nick Ross, the independent commentator and expert on risk, has said—that people do not die in buildings where there is a fire if there are sprinklers? We ought to pay more attention to that. Even if they are not required everywhere, we ought to consider whether they would be useful and valuable.
Finally, at the all-party group meeting, leaseholders talked about the sixfold or greater increase in their insurance premiums. The Government should get together with the Association of British Insurers and say, “Are people being scalped or is there scope for a scheme like Flood Re, which made premiums affordable to ordinary people trying to go on living in their homes?”
I thank the Father of the House, who has been heavily involved in this issue and has a long-standing interest in leasehold reform. We are working with the insurance industry and the mortgage industry to try to unblock the issues that are flowing there. We have had some success with that. There is now a deal between the major lenders and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors to find a simpler way to assess the condition of high-rise buildings and ensure that lenders can make a proper assessment of the value of people’s homes. We will continue to engage with that very closely.
I am happy to work with my hon. Friend and any others who represent or are interested in leasehold reform. He knows my personal interest in that and commitment to bring forward legislation later in the year. I have been contacted by many leaseholders who feel trapped in their homes and are very concerned about their ability to meet the costs that flow through. It is obviously right that building owners should meet the cost of remediation work, but we need to work with leaseholders to ensure that meeting those costs is not a barrier to getting the work done and keeping them safe. I have made that commitment today.
I am glad to see the Minister bringing forward some recommendations. He says that he will be guided by evidence, but in Scotland we already have gone from 18 metres to 11 metres. I have raised this in the House three times now, so I do not understand why he is still at some kind of consultation phase on it. There is evidence already and he could act on it to make those changes. I am pleased that he is bringing forward a building safety regulator, but what additional funding will the Health and Safety Executive get for that? It is already under significant pressure and should not be asked to take on more without the funds to back it.
What is the Minister learning from the Scottish Housing Regulator, which I have mentioned to him before? Has he met it to discuss the work that already goes on in Scotland? Will people be able to make complaints to the shadow regulator in the interim, or will they have to wait until it is fully set up? Will the reporting of significant performance failures be part of that, as it is in the Scottish system?
On the Secretary of State’s point about consolidation of advice notes, I have had constituents contact me about the consequences of advice note 14, which was drawn up by his Government but is having an impact on people in Scotland who cannot sell their properties and are struggling with insurance issues. What communication has he had with the Scottish Government on that? I know that the Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart, has been in touch with him about that issue. We cannot resolve it, because it is an issue for this Government and about mortgage lending, which is not in the Scottish Government’s purview. It would be useful to know what discussions the Secretary of State has had and how he intends to resolve this issue in the consolidated advice note.
Lastly, on remediation, we do not have quite the same problem with leasehold in Scotland that exists in England, but we do have issues. I want to ask the Secretary of State, as I have asked him before, about incentivisation to resolve some of these issues. For example, is he looking at reducing the VAT on sprinklers and cladding to encourage people to act at a speedier rate, and will he ensure that the fund is accessible to those who need it in Scotland?
I am happy to work with the hon. Lady and her colleagues in Scotland and to ensure that my Department is properly engaged with the Scottish Government, to learn all we can from their experience and vice versa. With respect to the mortgage market, I have said that we have been working closely with lenders and RICS to find a way forward. We have made significant progress, and they announced their deal during the general election campaign in the autumn.
We listened to the commentary that it was too confusing having multiple sources of advice for building owners, so we have worked to consolidate those 22 pieces of advice into one document: advice note 14. That has been published on the gov.uk website, and we remain open to comments on it and refinement of it, if necessary. The research and testing process that lies behind advice note 14, which John Healey raised, will be published next month. That process is coming to its final conclusions, and that information will also be in the public domain, so those who take a particular interest and require to see the evidence behind advice note 14 will be able to do so.
We will, of course, give the Health and Safety Executive the funding required to set up the regulator. We chose the Health and Safety Executive, as opposed to creating a stand-alone building safety regulator, precisely because it has the expertise and the capacity and is ready to get going at pace, which I think we can all agree is essential.
I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend will consult on whether height alone should be the determining factor or whether there should be a more sophisticated matrix of risks. I am very concerned about vulnerable residents in the likes of care homes and hospitals. Will they be taken into consideration in the matrix of risks?
I welcome my hon. Friend to the House and will no doubt work closely with her on these issues in the years ahead. I think it was right to take the decision that height alone was too crude a measure and that we needed to consider this carefully and involve a whole range of factors, including the likely use of the building and the likely nature of the residents of that building, whether it be a hotel, student accommodation or something else. That is exactly what we are doing, and we will use the best possible expert advice to draw up a new regime.
We saw in the Bolton fire, where the building was 17.6 or 17.8 metres high—just a matter of centimetres away from the 18-metre threshold—that height alone was simply too crude a measure and that building safety needs to be proportionate to the building. Height is likely to continue to be a very material factor—perhaps the most material one—but a range of other factors now need to be considered.
The issue of retrofitting sprinklers in social housing blocks seems to be less determined by risk assessment than by cost and the legal right to access those properties. We have seen Wandsworth Council lose its case in the first-tier tribunal. My council has suspended work on retrofitting because of a lack of clarity about rights of access. Can the Secretary of State tell us exactly what the policy is and whether he accepts that, in almost all social blocks, there are multi-tenures—there are private leaseholders—and there needs to be clarity about how retrofitting will be funded and what rights of access councils will have to private leasehold properties?
I will take up the issue the hon. Lady raises with respect to rights of access so that I can give her the best possible advice there. With respect to cost, the position today, as it has been throughout, is that this remediation work is the responsibility of building owners. As I have already said now on a number of occasions, I am aware of the fact that clearly there are some leaseholders who will struggle to raise the necessary funds. We have precedents for this: we see, for example, homeowners who purchased their property through right to buy and who may then be presented with significant costs, perhaps by a council or a housing association. Measures have been put in place to help them through that process so that that is not a bar to doing the essential works that now need to be done. That is exactly the conversation I will now be having with the Treasury to see whether we can put in place some sensible proposals to help people in that situation.
As someone who, in a past life, chaired a local authority housing committee responsible for these matters, may I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement of the new regulator? I ask my right hon. Friend to update us on the discussions that he has been having with local authority leaders on both how to use the information in their possession to identify buildings and structures at risk in their area, and how the learning from that might help the new regulator to bring some clarity to the often confusing area of building control.
We have been working closely with local authorities ever since the Grenfell tragedy. We have supported them with advice and funding so that they can draw up lists and provide data on buildings over 18 metres—we have provided them with £4 million for that—and we should be in a position to publish that data in March, which is the deadline that we set local authorities. We have also created the protection board, which is designed to take that work to another level—bringing together the fire and rescue services, the Home Office and my Department with local authorities to assess, on a priority basis, the fire safety of those buildings that have not yet been assessed.
Would the Secretary of State like to take this opportunity to apologise to all residents and those in privately owned blocks who still are living with this unsafe Grenfell- style cladding wrapped around their homes, when the Government set their own target of December 2019 to have this cladding removed? Will he apologise in particular to those in a social housing block in my constituency, Castlemaine, where this work has been delayed—it has been held up by chaos—and Wandsworth Council is not taking responsibility for ensuring that the work is done and done to a high standard?
I am sorry to hear about the example that the hon. Lady raises, and I will look into that if she could give me the details after this statement. Since becoming Secretary of State, I have taken action to ensure that the remediation fund moves forward at pace. We now have a named contact working with every one of these buildings. I review the lists regularly, and we have made a great deal of progress. We have now reached the point, as I have said, where every building is within the system and is working with my Department. The only ones that are not are those that emerged only recently as having ACM cladding. I hope that we will now, finally, make rapid progress.
May I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and his proactivity on this issue? Advice note 14 states that only limited combustibility materials should be used on external surfaces, but our work on the Select Committee has shown that the actual guidance was much more ambiguous, which leaves many leaseholders in limbo. Will he consider extending the remediation fund to cover other types of combustible cladding?
The expert advice that we received said that ACM should be the priority of Government. That is why my predecessors announced the £600 million remediation fund for ACM on high-rise buildings. The testing results, which I will publish next month, confirm that decision and make it clear that ACM is significantly more dangerous than any other substance. That has rightly been the focus of taxpayers’ money in terms of grant, but there may be other ways forward to assist those leaseholders trapped in other types of buildings.
Before Christmas, two tenants from a Stockland Green tower block in my constituency asked me why it has taken the best part of three years for the Government not to come up with one single penny towards making safe the 213 tower blocks in Birmingham, which include 10,000 households. They were right, because despite the warm words and promises made at the time, not one penny has been forthcoming. Will the Secretary of State personally look again at the request by Birmingham City Council for the necessary financial support to complete the task of making safe those tower blocks?
I am happy to review that once again, but as I said in response to previous questions, we have provided £600 million of funding to ensure that properties in the private and social sectors are remediated as swiftly as possible.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the urgency with which he has approached this issue. Employers who employ people in unsafe conditions could be liable to prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, and there is a parallel with this issue. Does the Secretary of State agree that if this final opportunity to make safe these dwellings is not taken, enforcement action should not be ruled out?
Absolutely, and we have not ruled it out. Local authorities have the power to take enforcement action, and we are working closely with them to ensure that they do so if progress is too slow. When we have legislated for our new building safety regime and put the regulator on a statutory footing, there will be new criminal offences in this area. Every building will have a named individual who is responsible for its safety, not just at the point that it is built, but for the whole of its life, and that individual will be criminally liable for the safety of that building.
I should declare that I am a leaseholder and all my cladding is being removed—happily, I am one of the fortunate few whose developer is paying for it. However, many of my constituents are mortgage prisoners, shared owners, or people on low incomes, and they are trapped in that position and unable to move their lives on. The Secretary of State has said warm words about talking to the Treasury, but we all know how difficult it can be to get money out of it. Is he looking at other options, such as interest-free loans on a long-term basis? How quickly can he move? These leaseholders are trapped and need to know whether they will be waiting for months or years.
The hon. Lady is right—I am concerned about the position of those leaseholders, and we will work closely with the Treasury to see whether there is a way forward. There are already examples of building owners or private finance providers bringing forward low or zero-interest loans, on a hardship basis, to help individuals who are on low incomes or without savings to make the payments required to remediate their buildings. There may be a role for the Government in ensuring that that works, that the loans are affordable, and that it is done as quickly as possible.
I remain a proud member of the Chartered Institute of Building. Will the Secretary of State endorse the work of the CIOB in driving up standards in construction to ensure that we build safer buildings in the future, not least with its code of quality management, which was published in September last year?
I am happy to endorse that work. Our building safety regime in this country is flawed in many respects, and decades of neglect now need to be addressed. That will have to work through all parts of the system, whether Government or the construction sector, and we must ensure that builders and developers pay far more attention to quality and safety than they have done in the past. We have recently seen disturbing reports, such as the independent report on Persimmon that was published at the end of last year, and action is now required from the whole construction industry.
The Minister referred in his statement to long-standing problems and, quite rightly, to a loss of public confidence. Does he think it will help to improve public confidence if, as newspaper reports state, the investigation panel into what went wrong with the Grenfell cladding is set to include an engineer, Benita Mehra, whose previous organisation was in receipt of thousands of pounds from Arconic, the company that manufactured the Grenfell cladding?
I am aware of the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman. As Secretary of State I am a core participant in the inquiry, and I cannot comment on the judge or his panel. Appointments to the panel are made by the Prime Minister, advised by the Cabinet Office. I know the Prime Minister is aware of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman, and he will be considering them carefully.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. There are two issues I want to raise briefly. The first is the extent of the buildings that will now be brought into scope. Clearly, a large number of buildings will now be in scope. Has my right hon. Friend examined how many there will be? Secondly, there is a lot of criticism of the tests themselves and whether they are fit for purpose. Will he review the safety tests to ensure they are brought up to modern standards?
I do not have precise figures for my hon. Friend today, but he is right that the changes we have announced will bring a large number of additional buildings within the safety regime that we have been working through since the Grenfell tragedy. That is a difficult decision to take, but I think it is right. We have to be guided by the evidence. We have to make the necessary changes and then take whatever steps emerge afterwards, but I am very mindful, for example, of the impact on leaseholders and on the mortgage market. That is why my Department is working very closely with lenders to ensure that the steps we have announced today do not have an adverse impact on the market.
The Secretary of State justifies the particular help because of the risk from ACM cladding, but many leaseholders, including in places like St George’s Building, Leeds Dock and Timble Beck in my constituency in Leeds, have been told by the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service that if they do not have a waking watch they will have to move out. The cost of a waking watch risks bankrupting leaseholders even before we get to the point of determining who will pay for the replacement of the cladding. I very much welcome the hint in the statement today about working with the Treasury, but since leaseholders are so stressed by all of this can the Secretary of State give some indication of when that announcement might come? Will they have to wait for the Budget or could it be earlier?
I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman precise details of the negotiations, but they are continuing and we will work closely to see what arrangements we can put in place. I encourage any building owner to take action immediately. Building owners need to conduct a fire safety assessment of their building, if that is required, and then take any steps required. No delay should be encouraged by any of us.
I welcome the statement. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the issue of permitted development rights and the problems it has caused my constituency. How will the building safety regulations apply to that? What is he doing to ensure quality housing and proper building safety for permitted development rights buildings?
My right hon. Friend and I have discussed permitted development rights in the past, and he has taken me to Harlow to see some of the issues there. That is why we have reviewed the permitted development office-to-residential regulations and will be taking forward any reforms necessary as a result. All properties built in this country need to be safe. That will have to feed through to all of the Government’s policies and our whole building safety regime.
Generally, leaseholders do not enjoy third-party rights to claim under the latent structural defect insurance taken out by a developer or his design team. Will the Secretary of State consider legislating to provide for minimum levels of cover, minimum terms for such insurance and the third-party rights of leaseholders and managing agents to make claims under those policies?
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I welcome the steps outlined to progress the building safety regulator and the progress that has been made to remediate the majority of the social housing properties. With continuing progress in the private sector, I share the desire expressed that all such properties are made safe and secure as quickly as possible. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that all those involved in building and maintenance of housing will be required to meet the important reforms of new building safety systems that he has outlined today?
Yes, I certainly can. I also draw attention to the fact that my hon. Friend has taken forward our new homes ombudsman. I will bring forward legislation in due course to put that on a statutory footing, so that developers are held to account and there is a proper redress system for those purchasing properties.
I welcome the appointment of Dame Judith Hackitt as chair to oversee the establishment of the new regulator within the Health and Safety Executive. However, I worry that such regulators have become severely underfunded. The Secretary of State said that there would be new funding, but I worry that it will just disappear within the HSE. Can he reassure me that the budget for the new regulator will be ring-fenced?
I reassure the hon. Lady that whatever funds are required to ensure that the regulator succeeds will be made available. A very large number of individuals are already working on building safety in my Department —well over 100 people are engaged in this activity, many of whom will, in due course, transition to the new regulator—but, as I said before, the reason we chose the Health and Safety Executive is that it has the experience and the capacity, and it can move quickly.
I wrote to the Secretary of State over two months ago highlighting the case of a student housing block that had been evacuated, with all tenants relocated, as a result of multiple fire regulation failures. This was a building that had been signed off by a Government-approved private building inspection company without a site inspection. Does he agree—he has not replied to me yet—that he needs to review the entire process of building control in the context of that case?
I will look up the hon. Gentleman’s letter and make sure that a proper response is given to him as soon as possible. However, the premise of Dame Judith’s work, which will be legislated for in our building safety Bill, is to ensure that there is a proper, robust system for the inspection of buildings at the point that they are constructed, meaning that we do not have building inspectors appointed by the developers, but that these are independent individuals working to robust procedures, and then that an individual is criminally liable for the outcomes.
I have already said that we are very happy to engage with colleagues in the Scottish Government, and I will make sure that that happens. The funding that the Health and Safety Executive requires will be available. We are still having those conversations with it, so I do not want to wrongly advise the hon. Lady, but I say again that we will ensure that it has the resources it requires to take forward this incredibly important work.
The Secretary of State says that he is minded to review the minimum height of new buildings for the fitting of sprinkler systems. In November 2007, Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service lost four firefighters in a terrible blaze. Why will the Government simply not legislate for the fitting of sprinklers in all new builds and retrospectively?
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, we have to follow procedures so we have consulted, which is the way we proceed on such matters. The consultation is now complete, we have reviewed the evidence and we will be publishing it shortly. However, I have said today that, subject to our exact response in the coming weeks, I am minded to make that move, and that will be done through regulation so it can happen swiftly.
As the Minister knows, 79 unsafe blocks still remain in Manchester. Some have non-ACM cladding. In most cases, the cost of remediation is being passed on to leaseholders—upwards of £80,000 each. I am not sure after two and a half years, with this statement and the big package announced today, what a “name and shame” and conversations with the Treasury will do to reassure my residents in Manchester that their unsafe buildings will be dealt with immediately.
I have laid out today a very significant series of reforms—not least creating immediately the first regulator for building safety—and I have said that we will continue to work with leaseholders, such as the ones she represents, to ensure that cost is not a barrier to remediation. However, this is a complex challenge that will clearly take this country a very long time to work through.
The Secretary of State referenced the new industry-wide valuation process that was announced in December. Will he tell the House whether the Government have formally endorsed the new EWS1—external wall system—process? Have he or his officials had any evidence that it is working to resolve the problems that leaseholders in high-rise buildings face in selling or re-mortgaging their properties? If not, and if he has found any evidence that it is lacking, will he tell us what further clarification the consolidated advice note will provide in that area?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He raised these issues with me in the summer and has contributed to our work since then. My officials and I have worked closely with lenders, UK Finance and RICS to reach this agreement. It is too early to say whether it has been successful yet—it has only been in place for a matter of weeks—but I am hopeful that it will provide a much simpler system for valuing buildings and getting people’s mortgages flowing in the way we all hope.