Building Safety

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:44 pm on 29th June 2021.

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Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 5:44 pm, 29th June 2021

I welcome the opportunity to be part of this debate about estimated Government spending on building safety, which is of course essentially about public safety. It is a very timely debate, given that the deadline for applications to the building safety fund is tomorrow. It is a fund that, this time last year, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee found to be seriously lacking, and it falls far short of the estimated £15 billion needed to address all fire safety defects, not just combustible cladding, in every high-risk residential building.

The problem goes even deeper, however, and is equally about the current height and product-based approach. Fire does not discriminate between buildings based on their height. It is illogical and nonsensical to exclude buildings of under 18 metres in height from applying to this fund. Eight blocks in my Brighton, Pavilion constituency are under 18 metres, and many more right across the country fall into this category. No wonder the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee is advocating a comprehensive building safety fund, alongside remediation that applies to all high-risk buildings of any height, irrespective of tenure; covers all fire safety defects, including combustible insulation; and covers all associated costs.

The Minister will be aware that the Committee, in common with many MPs and groups such as End Our Cladding Scandal, is also calling for a holistic risk and evidence-based approach that prioritises occupants who are most at risk and for the cost to be met by Government and industry, not pushed on to leaseholders. Yet we have constituents left in limbo and in fear, waiting for further details of the flawed loans scheme the Government announced earlier this year. The sums needed to ensure leaseholders do not pay more than £50 a month, as has been promised, simply do not stack up. Leaseholders in a block of below 18 metres in Manchester have been sent bills of over £100,000 each. It would take 169 years to pay back a loan that size if payments genuinely are capped at £50 a month without interest.

The reality is that the Government’s so-called solution will saddle people with debilitating debt and push them into bankruptcy, so the loan scheme needs to be scrapped and the gaps in existing support closed as a matter of priority, with responsibility falling where it is due. For every day that passes without the Government keeping their promise to leaseholders about fixing historical safety defects that they did not cause, remedial work is still not happening and people are still living in dangerous homes. I have so much correspondence from residents who are struggling to get responses and clearer information from their housing providers, which in turn are crumbling under the volume of inquiries and struggling to get responses from the developers they are in dispute with about defects.

Back in 2019, it was simply good luck that none of my constituents lost their lives at a fire in a block of below 18 metres in Pankhurst Avenue in Brighton. Residents lost everything, and many are still displaced and living in temporary accommodation. They are rightly horrified, as am I, that the Government’s approach has been characterised by doing the bare minimum. I invite the Minister to meet some of my constituents to hear directly from them about the impact of the building safety crisis and how that makes them feel.

That brings me, finally, to waking watch. In my constituency, I am aware of 11 blocks, totalling 686 flats, where there are questions about building safety. Two blocks with waking watches have to date incurred costs that exceed £703,000 for waking watch patrols alone. That figure increases every day that the Government do not intervene in disputes over remedial work and liability between housing providers and developers. In any case, the name of the waking watch fund is, frankly, a misnomer, given that it often does nothing more than cover the cost of alarms being installed in blocks with unsafe cladding. It does nothing to help my constituents who have been unable to get alarms installed in their blocks, and instead continue to pay for 24-hour patrols to alert residents in the event of a fire. Put simply, the waking watch fund does not cover waking watch costs.

In conclusion, the Government must absolutely deliver on the removal of all dangerous cladding from buildings by 2022 at the latest, but building safety is about more than cladding. More than four years on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Government must ensure people are safe in their own homes, that buildings are remediated when needed, and that those who are affected can move on with their lives without being saddled with lifelong debt.