Building Safety

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:49 pm on 29th June 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jo Gideon Jo Gideon Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent Central 5:49 pm, 29th June 2021

First, I would like to join my hon. Friend Jack Brereton in thanking all the builders and construction workers who have worked throughout the pandemic in Stoke-on-Trent. It is great to see new affordable, social and Help to Buy properties being completed. We need more homes that are affordable, safe and compliant with strict standards, including on non-combustible cladding, to avoid another tragedy as we learn the lessons from the heartbreak of Grenfell. We all agree that safety must come first in legislating for improved building standards. However, measures must also be proportionate. I have raised the concerns of flat- owners in my constituency who were facing real challenges with the requirement for an ESW1 form, even though their building had no cladding, and I welcome the agreement that the Government have reached to waive the need for flat-owners to have an ESW1 form when selling their properties, if their building does not have cladding.

The homes that are built need to be safe and in the right place, and for that we need to shape places to make them right. Stoke-on-Trent has no equal for friendliness, and the city’s economy is growing. With the right investment, we can deliver plenty of brownfield sites both for housing and for modern industrial development, but there are up-front costs to brownfield regeneration, and in our relatively low-value property market it is not currently commercially viable for developers to meet those clean-up costs.

Part of the reason for low property prices in the city is that our place has lost its shape, by which I mean that a raft of our potteries has closed, including some of the very biggest names that were lost in the 2008-09 financial crash. Those heritage sites are now in urgent need of repurposing. What we do have is resilience and public support for regeneration that preserves and celebrates our unique industrial heritage assets. The regeneration of Spode works is particularly exciting, providing residential growth and saving much loved and authentic built heritage, including as a hub for the cutting-edge games industry.

The legacy of the pottery industry is also present in former clay pits, and in that context I must once again raise the ongoing saga in Etruria in my constituency of a terrible sinkhole in Boatman Drive and the safety of homeowners, many of whom have not been able to access their properties by road for over a year. There are several hundred houses built on the site of an old marl hole, or clay pit. Homeowners are facing increased insurance premiums or are unable to sell their homes while the situation remains unresolved. I have raised it with the Minister for Housing, and I regret to report today that the subsidence is getting worse.

Where multiple agencies are involved, a clear process for resolving such complex situations is needed. I have met Baroness Vere, the roads Minister, and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to discuss the matter, but regulations governing the residual and ongoing responsibility for the adequate remediation of brownfield sites and subsequent protections for new homeowners when catastrophic issues arise are within the scope of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Part of the task of levelling up is to address the legacy of the past. The scars of deindustrialisation continue to make the task of regeneration complex, as places such as Stoke-on-Trent address abnormal site issues, such as land contamination, decaying industrial structures and the enduring misuse of brownfield land and old buildings.

We used to have a specialist national organisation to support local areas in dealing with these sites. English Partnerships, set up by a Conservative Government, did fantastic work in supporting areas around the country in resolving these conundrums, unlocking latent commercial value. I am very uncertain where that help and support come from today, so I ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government to consider whether there is a case for recreating an expert body that is properly resourced to support places like Stoke to resolve these problems and therefore accelerate economic recovery.

Cities like Stoke-on-Trent with lots of brownfield sites can be unlocked for affordable housing programmes. The city council is committed to powering up the city, and we are determined that our best days are ahead of us. We are already affordable, and with the right help for tackling site abnormals and connecting development sites, we could do even more. Building affordable and safe new homes and creating more and viable commercial sites; cleaning up and greening our city by repurposing even more brownfield sites; offering new homes and new employment opportunities locally; helping other parts of the country to protect their green belt—that is what levelling up is all about. I support the Government’s investment in building safety and welcome any future investment in ensuring the safety of developments on brownfield sites.