Building Safety

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:21 pm on 29th June 2021.

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Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Conservative, Kensington 5:21 pm, 29th June 2021

It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Select Committee, who is always thoughtful and well informed.

The building safety Bill will be a landmark piece of legislation. I would like to see it introduced as quickly as possible, post summer recess. It will transform the regulatory system for buildings and put the safety of residents in high-rises at the heart of the regime. It will make it clear who is accountable for the safety of buildings, all the way through their life, from design to construction and occupation. I would also like it to drive a change in the culture of the building industry, because I have been shocked by some of the revelations that have come out of the Grenfell inquiry, particularly about the conduct of the building products industry.

Given that this is an estimates debate, I want to welcome the funding that the Government have made available. Of the £5.1 billion, if we add the £3.5 billion announced in February to the £1.6 billion that had already been announced, and if we also include the subsidised loans scheme, the tax on property developers and the levy on high-rises, it looks to me like a package of £5 billion to £10 billion, and it could well be in the mid to upper end of that range. However, it is clear that there are still an awful lot of outstanding issues that we need to resolve with a sense of urgency.

First, leaseholders in intermediate-height buildings of 11 to 18 metres need clarity on the financing scheme, and they need it as soon as possible, because uncertainty is not good. I understand that the loan will go with the building, as opposed to the leaseholder, but sometimes the freeholds of these buildings are not worth a lot, so if the loan exceeds the value of the freehold, how will that work?

I have tremendous sympathy for the plight of leaseholders who are facing extenuating circumstances and who are in this position—let us never forget—through no fault of their own. Every time I talk to a constituent about a new building, it exposes another complex set of problems, so I beseech the Minister to get dedicated teams at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government drilling down into the detail, building by building, and trying to resolve some of these very difficult and complex issues.

I also ask that there is some discretion. To give a quick example, there is a building in my constituency where the leaseholders paid for the remediation of ACM cladding in the expectation that the building’s owner would then apply to the fund. They have now been told that the building’s owner does not want to do that, but they find that they cannot apply to the fund because they are a third party. I would love to see discretion in that situation.