Building Safety

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 29th June 2021.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central 6:15 pm, 29th June 2021

I thank my fellow Sheffield MP, my hon. Friend Mr Betts, the Chair of the Select Committee, for the excellent way in which he comprehensively framed the issues about building safety that we need to consider. I also thank all members of the Committee for their consideration of cladding and other safety issues in multi-storey buildings, many of which are in my constituency.

Today is the first opportunity to debate the issue properly since the Government ordered their MPs to vote down cross-party proposals to protect leaseholders. My hon. Friend was right to remind Ministers that the issue will not go away, partly because many Members on both sides of the House will continue to press it and also because of the impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the country.

Only last week, I was contacted by a mother who shared her son’s situation with me. He is also one of my constituents. Trapped by owning a home in an unsafe building and facing unaffordable financial demands, he has considered taking his life to get out of that nightmare. Now in his late 20s, he was 14 when the building where he lives was built. How is he responsible for the faults of developers and the failure of regulators?

Colleagues will know that that is not an isolated case and that many of us represent leaseholders who face bills that they cannot afford and live in unsafe properties that they cannot sell. They are under intense mental strain, not just because of the huge financial pressures, but because their lives are on hold. They are unable to move, start families or begin new jobs.

The Prime Minister recognised the problem when he pledged in February that

“no leaseholder should have to pay for the unaffordable costs of fixing safety defects that they did not cause and are no fault of their own.”—[Official Report, 3 February 2021; Vol. 688, c. 945.]

Like so many of his promises, it was casually made and casually ignored when we debated the Fire Safety Bill. Ministers must recognise that the situation is untenable. Any settlement that requires people to pay unreasonable amounts of money will not only break them but is doomed to fail.

The loan scheme that Ministers proposed is unfair and fails to cover everybody in that situation, as others have pointed out. It is also unworkable. Remediation will not happen and buildings will remain unsafe. Four years ago, many of the risks facing buildings were not fully understood. They are now, so the continued failure to act is simply unforgivable.

I met affected constituents from across my constituency again last week. They had heard the Prime Minister’s promise and they watched the Fire Safety Bill pass unamended with bitter disappointment. They asked me to make it clear to Ministers that their campaign will not stop until they see the action they deserve. They are victims of comprehensive regulatory failure, which we have a responsibility to address. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East said, it should be addressed by using the full resources of the state and then recovering the costs from those responsible.

Ministers mark the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower every year, but then bury their heads in the sand in the hope that history will not repeat itself. It is not good enough, and it is time for the Government to act and put an end to the nightmare facing so many of our constituents.