Building Safety

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:54 pm on 29th June 2021.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee 5:54 pm, 29th June 2021

We learned this month of the anger in Chesham and Amersham over Government housing policy. My constituents who face massive bills for waking watch and to repair defects in their leasehold homes are angry as well. Their anger is well expressed by Liam Halligan in the current issue of The Spectator, which was once edited by the Prime Minister. Liam Halligan’s article explains how the big house builders—Barratt, Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon —have used their excessive profits from the broken housing market to buy off the Tory party with donations in order to successfully maintain the current rigged system. Those firms have built tens of thousands of shoddy, dangerous homes and are now passing the cost of fixing the problem to leaseholders, and the Government are refusing to stop them. And then there is Help to Buy, which The Spectator says is

“a government subsidy focused on new builds which has overwhelmingly gone to the big operators, juicing up both house prices and profits further, while making new homes even less affordable for the majority who are unable to access the scheme.”

All this has been compounded by Tory failure on regulation. In January 2012, David Cameron made it his new year’s resolution—with a frankly chilling phrase, in hindsight—to

“kill off the health and safety culture for good.”

Tory Housing Ministers, seeing growing evidence of the need to tighten fire safety regulation, steadfastly refused to do so; it would have upset the house builders. The upshot was Grenfell Tower. NHBC, the privatised building control provider favoured by house builders because it is easier to satisfy than local authorities, signed off shoddy, defective buildings with minimal inspection, if any. It has been utterly discredited. Far from killing off the health and safety culture, Ministers have had to hand the Health and Safety Executive—the embodiment of that culture, which the Tories fortunately did not manage to “kill off”—the crucial new building safety regulator role.

The Spectator article finishes by pointing out:

“Powerful vested interests benefit mightily from this high-price, low-build-quality gridlock” and calls for

“a full Competition and Markets Authority inquiry into UK housebuilders”.

Unlike other Members in this debate, I do not want to thank those house builders. Competition is absent from this market. The Government must now finally side with leaseholders and would-be homeowners, and take on not the building products industry, but the house builders.