Building Safety

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:57 pm on 29th June 2021.

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Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 5:57 pm, 29th June 2021

The deadline for applications to the building safety fund is tomorrow, but it is very clear to me and to many other people I have been speaking to—people who are leaseholders in affected properties—that there is a lack of information about the scheme and the deadline. Surely we should therefore be asking the Minister to look at flexibility regarding applications for those people who may be eligible but are not aware that they are.

The crucial issue is that the building safety fund has had £5.1 billion committed to it, but we recognise that the cost of making safe all the buildings that are unsafe because of their cladding is in the region of £15 billion. Of course, that means that nobody in a building smaller than 11 metres would get any support whatever. I point out that nobody in my constituency lives in any building as high as 11 metres, and that is also the case in many much more urban areas than mine. But when we think that there may be up to 1 million people living in affected properties and that a few tens of thousands may get something out of that scheme, we realise that this is surely a despicable state of affairs.

Leaseholders who have done what Governments of different colours, but especially of the blue colour, have encouraged them to do over the last few decades—become homeowners and specifically those homeowners—find themselves stuck in unsafe homes that they cannot afford to make safe, and which they have no chance of selling because of that. They are utterly stuck and, in many cases, as good as ruined. There has been lots of talk about whether things might get better through the Building Safety Bill, and there have been lots of hopeful remarks from colleagues, particularly those on the Government Benches, but do they realise the impact that waiting for any news, good or bad, is having on people in that situation—people who are stuck and cannot move, people facing ruin, people afraid that the place they live in is unsafe and unsaleable?

The Government could agree to the principle of the matter today by agreeing to underwrite the cost of making safe all those buildings and ensuring that those leaseholders are not punished for something that was not their fault, particularly given that we know whose fault it was. In the first instance, the fault lies with the developers that built unsafe properties and Governments of all colours who neglected to ensure that the regulations were good enough in the first place and that they were kept to. Governments of various colours neglected the people and did not stand up for their safety, so it is right that the Government should underwrite the cost of dealing with the cladding scandal and recoup the money from the developers thereafter.

I want to refer to another matter relating to building safety that is of enormous and growing importance in my constituency in particular—the issue of Airbnb. I do not want to denigrate that whole model, the company or the people who make use of it, but it is clear that the standards that apply to people who use their homes for Airbnb are not the same as those that apply to people who are offering a holiday let. As I said last week—this is so important that I will keep repeating it until the Government do something about it—there has been a 32% increase in the number of holiday lets in the Lake district over the past few months. As hon. Members can imagine, my constituency was pretty full of them to start with. Perhaps 80% of all houses bought in my community during the pandemic have gone into the second-home market, so there is an issue with the safety of houses and properties. We must ensure that those that easily get into the letting market are held to the same level of safety as those that were historically within it.

The Government need to get a grip of this growing crisis, because it is about not just the safety of the houses but the sustainability of communities. Villages and towns throughout Cumbria are becoming ghost towns. People who were paying an affordable private rent of £600 or £700 a month are being turfed out of their flats in Grange-over-Sands, Ambleside, Kendal or Sedbergh, which then go on the market for £1,000 a week. I referred to it last week as the lakeland clearances: the clearing out of our communities, because there are ways of making more money from them, rather than having a resident population.

I ask the Minister to take note of what I have said about the building safety fund. His Government must take immediate action to change planning use for rental and second-home properties. They should become a separate category of planning use so that local authorities and national parks can do something to save their communities before it is too late.