Building Safety on Public Land

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 11th June 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Hina Bokhari Hina Bokhari Liberal Democrat

What do you consider to be your responsibility to Londoners living in unsafe buildings?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Chair, can I congratulate Hina on her election for the first time? I see your mum is in the audience. It is nice to see her. I know she is very proud. You know I knew your dad very well. He would be really proud. Congratulations.

The building safety crisis is one of the most pressing challenges facing our country and I am strongly committed to protecting Londoners affected by this. I have stood with the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire and I have seen the impact of the crisis first-hand. Recent fires, most notably at New Providence Wharf, remind us that, nearly four years after Grenfell, too many people are still living in unsafe homes. We must not rest until everyone is safe.

I want to support Londoners on this issue in three important ways. Firstly, I am doing everything within my power to ensure buildings are as safe as possible. To this end, I have ensured new buildings in London need to meet tough fire safety standards by introducing, for the first time, new measures in the London Plan. I have also set new requirements in the Affordable Homes Programme as well as for development on Greater London Authority (GLA) land, and any projects procured on GLA land.

Secondly, I am using my convening powers to coordinate the sector in its response to the building safety crisis. For example, I have convened a task-and-finish group to improve the External Wall System 1 (EWS1) form process when leaseholders request forms for lenders certifying that the external walls of their homes are not made from combustible materials. The group will support social-sector landlords to follow best practice and improve the experience of residents who have struggled to secure EWS1 forms, leaving them unable to sell their homes and move on with their lives.

Finally, I will continue to advocate for Londoners and engage with the Government on the need for more funding to remediate unsafe buildings. As I have said repeatedly, leaseholders should not be charged to put right historic building safety defects that were not their fault, regardless of the height of their building or the type of safety defect. I am pleased the Government now accepts the principle of a developer levy, something I proposed back in December [2020]. I am committed to working closely with the Government on this and more broadly to find long-term meaningful solutions that will keep Londoners safe in their homes.

Photo of Hina Bokhari Hina Bokhari Liberal Democrat

Thank you for your answer and your very kind welcome, Mr Mayor. We need to agree that the Government response is far from perfect on the cladding crisis, but you can do more as the Mayor of London.

I recently met residents living in the former Athletes’ Village of the Olympic Park, where 63 of the buildings are potential firetraps. Innocent leaseholders are stuck in unsafe buildings, facing eyewatering bills. These buildings were contracted and built with public money and on public land. What will you personally do to make them safe without pushing costs on to leaseholders?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Firstly, many of the leaseholders that you talk about have unimaginable strain on them. I have met many leaseholders over the last period.

You will be aware from the conversations you have had that these blocks in East Village are owned and managed by Delancey, Get Living and Triathlon Homes. My Deputy Mayor for Housing [and Residential Development] Tom Copley and the team at City Hall speak regularly with building owners and managers to accelerate remediation. Small amounts of aluminium composite material (ACM) within the external wall system have been identified in 11 of the 66 buildings in the development. We continue to use our planning powers to speak with Delancey and Get Living, including on the issue of fire safety.

Photo of Hina Bokhari Hina Bokhari Liberal Democrat

Many of these leaseholders you have mentioned own only a share of their homes but face 100% of the fire safety costs. Many want to sell back their share to the housing association so that they can move on.

Will you give shared owners in the Olympic Park - and across London - a way out by supporting the Buy Back scheme?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

The issue is for the Government to provide the financial support that the residents need. We do not have the resources to provide the residents with the support they need. A number of these residents feel like their properties are albatrosses around their necks. For the reasons you know, it is not just because of the EWS1 that they cannot sell them. They are worried they are unsafe.

We have asked the Government to support them financially and then later on work with the developers, the owners and the managers to get the money back for the Government. The only people who can afford to support the residents is the Government. There is cross-party agreement on the Assembly for us to lobby the Government to do more.

Photo of Hina Bokhari Hina Bokhari Liberal Democrat

Excellent. Finally, over two months ago, several buildings applied for the Waking Watch Relief Fund, which is administered by the GLA under the Mayor of London, but have heard nothing back. This is unacceptable. Will you take responsibility and speed up the Waking Watch Relief Fund process right away?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

All the rules that we use are rules from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). We administer the funds from MHCLG. If there are any particular issues with delay, of course we are happy to look into those.

It is worth reminding you and colleagues that the rules are not written by us. We are, if you like, the middle third party, making sure the money is facilitated. I am more than happy, though, to look into any individual cases. Chair, I am sure that new Members will have explained how to reach my office to make sure we can expedite anything we can do.

Photo of Hina Bokhari Hina Bokhari Liberal Democrat

Thank you very much. Thank you for your answer.