Congratulations. It is good to see you in the Assembly and I hope you enjoy it. It was great to be out campaigning with you so much during the campaign. Also, you have raised an issue that you raised a lot during the campaign as well, which is good to see.
I have always supported leaseholders and residents affected by the building safety scandal and will continue to do so. Recent fires such as the one at New Providence Wharf have emphasised yet again the pressing need to remediate buildings made with dangerous materials. I wrote to all building owners with unsafe ACM cladding in September 2020 to urge them to speed up remediation and I wrote specifically to Ballymore about New Providence Wharf. It is wrong for leaseholders to bear the costs of historic errors they have played no part in causing. I have called for a long-term fund solution to make all buildings safe, regardless of height or the type of safety defect, which protects leaseholders from costs. This solution should include my proposals for a levy on private developers. I am pleased the Government has recently agreed in principle to a levy and I will be clear in my consultation response that it needs to go as far as possible to support Londoners and people across the country.
In answer to a previous question, I highlighted the steps I have taken to ensure that new buildings in London meet tough fire safety standards, and my ambition to improve consumer experience and communication. I am proud to be a signatory to the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign led by affected leaseholders with input from the survivors of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and Inside Housing. My Deputy Mayor for Housing, Tom Copley, meets with cladding campaigners regularly and I personally joined a rally outside Parliament in early 2020. Prior to the pandemic, space was also provided at City Hall for quarterly meetings of cladding campaigners in London. The Government needs to urgently resolve this crisis so leaseholders can get on with their lives without facing crippling costs to correct safety defects they played no part in causing. I will of course work collaboratively with the Government while also continuing to apply pressure to achieve this ambition for Londoners.
Thank you, Mr Mayor, and congratulations on your excellent election result and your mandate from Londoners. As you know, this issue is a big issue for my constituents and for residents across London. I look forward to working with you to support Londoners caught up in the cladding and building safety defects scandal.
Mr Mayor, the Government released the building safety programme last June, the Waking Watch Relief Fund in December 2021, and announced changes to EWS1 forms in March this year. Is this enough to end this crisis?
No. But I do welcome and support some of the positive steps taken by the Government. There are big problems with the approach so far: buildings below 18 metres are not covered with some of the financial support given by the Government; remediation that is not cladding is not covered; there are some properties where, even with a fire alarm, you may need a waking watch in the absence of remediation of the cladding. That is why the Government has to do a lot more. You will have met people who, because of the EWS1 forms, cannot sell their properties because of the assurances they need to give. The Government should be stepping up financially to resolve the issue of these buildings that are unsafe to be made safe, and then get back the monies they spend from the landowners and others. You will be aware that a lot of the owners have offshore businesses and it is really difficult for leaseholders to get a solution from them. That is why the Government should step in and sort this out as soon as possible.
Mr Mayor, at the October 2020 Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning (FREP) Committee meeting, Ritu Saha, a founder of the UK Cladding Action Group, asked for support from your office to look at inconsistencies around waking watches and buildings in London. Will you commit to investigate these issues further on behalf of Londoners?
Absolutely. Tom Copley, the Deputy Mayor, has done lots of work on this. There are a number of issues here, which need looking into. You mentioned the inconsistencies. There are the remediation works, there are waking watches, there are inconsistencies in relation to safety measures. You will be aware of some of the stuff that the National Fire Chiefs Council has said. I am more than happy, either myself or Tom, to do further work in relation to this. A lot of this is outside our powers and our purviews, but we are trying to help groups and individuals who have nobody else to turn to. Therefore, we are going outside of our powers to try to help them because that is one of the roles we can play is to support them where possible, not just being the advocate for these leaseholders, but trying to assist in relation to the inconsistencies you refer to.
Many thanks for that. Finally, you and I have both signed up to the UK End Our Cladding Scandals 10-step plan, which includes at (9) a call that mental health support must be offered to affected residents. What can you do as Mayor to actively support leaseholders and to reduce the distress and anxiety that they are forced to live with?
I have met leaseholders who have seriously thought about killing themselves. Just think about that. Their dream was to be a homeowner, and it has turned into worse than a nightmare. One of the things we can do is try to persuade the Government to improve the service they provide. They have this independent advice service called LEASE (Leasehold Advisory Service). The Government has been asked to review the help it gives to leaseholders. I use the word ‘albatross’ to describe what some of these homes have become to these residents. Therefore, yes, we need to improve the support given to leaseholders, residents, particularly around mental health support.
One of the ways to ameliorate some of the mental health situation is by fixing the problem. We have to do a number of the things that you refer to, to try to help these residents, Londoners, who are really suffering huge anguish in the meantime. The sooner the Government can support them financially, the more that will help with the consequences of being a leaseholder in these dangerous buildings.