Building Safety

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:19 pm on 29th June 2021.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 6:19 pm, 29th June 2021

My reason for speaking briefly in the debate is that I promised my constituents currently affected by the cladding scandal that I would use every opportunity I could to raise their plight. To recap my past interventions, the largest number of those constituents live in properties constructed by Ballymore—they are homeowners, private renters, leaseholders and housing association tenants—and as with many other high-rise properties around the country, cladding inspections have revealed a range of other safety risks resulting from the construction techniques used in the development of those properties, including a risk from the wooden balconies. That also reflects the regulation and inspection regime in place when the buildings were constructed.

My constituents bought, leased or rented their homes in good faith and with various assurances from developers, builders, landlords and regulators about the quality of their homes’ construction. Now, they remain trapped, fearful for their safety, unable to sell and move on and still facing potentially huge bills to make their homes safe. There are heartbreaking cases, and this is impacting on people’s health—their mental health in particular—and the stability of their relationships.

Ballymore informed my constituents that it has applied for building safety fund grants, but they will not cover the range of safety defects, which will cost thousands of pounds per property. After Ballymore residents staged protest demonstrations and there was a fire in a Ballymore property in east London, the company made noises that those additional costs would be covered. We await legally enforceable commitments from the company.

It is rumoured that Ballymore threatened to withdraw any assurances to cover costs if the residents’ demonstrations continue. I hope that is not the case, but let me make it clear to the Ballymore company that I will not tolerate any threat to my constituents and their right to expose and protest against the way in which it has treated them. I expect the company now to bring forward urgently legally enforceable agreements to secure the safety of my constituents, firmly based on the principle that the developer—the perpetrator—must pay.

Finally, in my constituency there is a massive construction programme of up to 4,000 new properties in central Hayes. I am concerned that the design and intensity of the developments, and, yes, the lack of community facilities, may well mean that we are witnessing the construction of the slums of tomorrow. I am also concerned that more than a decade of savage cuts in local government funding has resulted in a lack of planning officers and building inspectors to ensure that these new developments comply with basic environmental, planning and safety standards. I have a real fear that what is being stored up is the same risks we saw at Grenfell and elsewhere, and a new generation of hazards and potential tragedies. I urge the Government to take swift action to give my constituents the assurances they need, to join me in condemning Ballymore if it threatens to withdraw the assurances it gave simply because my constituents are publicly expressing their concerns, and to look again at local government funding so that we have proper building regulation and planning controls in place with sufficiently staffed local authorities to enforce whatever regulations are available to them.