Clause 132 - Developers’ code of practice

Building Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 21st October 2021.

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Photo of Mark Logan Mark Logan Conservative, Bolton North East 2:00 pm, 21st October 2021

I beg to move amendment 57, in clause 132, page 137, line 9, at end insert—

“(1A) The code of practice must include measures on the standards of quality of work to promote building safety, including but not limited to, preventing water ingress.”

This amendment requires the developers’ code of practice to include standards relating to the prevention of water ingress.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.

Photo of Mark Logan Mark Logan Conservative, Bolton North East

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies.

I am speaking to the developers’ code of practice. The hon. Member for Weaver Vale mentioned earlier that, right across this country in every one of 650 constituencies, we receive a huge amount of casework. I will talk a little about my own constituents, their issues and how we may rectify matters through further consideration.

My constituents in Holden Mill in Astley Bridge have been considerably let down by the substandard workmanship of P J Livesey, a Cheshire building contractor, and by the insurers, the National House Building Council. Both parties appear to be protecting themselves, rather than the 450 residents of Holden Mill. I am pleased that the Government have already supported my residents with several schemes and through the work of the Building Safety Bill. I hope that we can ensure further protection of such residents and greater accountability.

The residents of Holden Mill have been at the mercy of NHBC and PJ Livesey for far too long. They face the dread of water ingress caused by the slightest downpour, and are surrounded by cladding deemed to be high risk. Every night, a physical waking watch travels through each and every corridor of their building to ensure that they are safe. However, that comes at significant cost, both financially and psychologically.

For example, Anita Brooks, who should be looking forward to welcoming her first child shortly—perhaps today—is in the midst of this unwanted lingering distress, unable to sell her apartment due to the unacceptable workmanship. Similarly, Kirit Raja owns two properties in the Holden Mill, both of which were uninhabitable for several months. He, too, was unable to sell them on the market, because of the historical incompetence of P J Livesey and others.

Rather than peaceful enjoyment or seeing a return on their investments, my residents are being forced to pay out thousands of pounds of their hard-earned money for mistakes for which they are not responsible. I suggest that that is happening up and down the country, which is why it is of paramount importance that we establish a new code of practice for the industry. The code must include measures on the standards of work quality to promote building safety for residents such as Anita and Kirit, ensuring that the industry is held accountable.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) (Planning)

I am really interested in this amendment. The hon. Gentleman specifically mentions water ingress, but the amendment says:

“including, but not limited to, preventing water ingress.”

I have had casework that involves water ingress. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there are other examples of people living in poor-standard accommodation due to poor workmanship? People have reported windows falling out, gaps in external walls and windows, unacceptable barriers between flats—stud walls where there should be brick walls, so that smoke, noise and fumes pass between—and so on. Does he agree that such examples should be considered, as well as water ingress?

Photo of Mark Logan Mark Logan Conservative, Bolton North East

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I appreciate that she is an expert in this field, having worked in the industry for many years, like my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary—apologies if I have given him a promotion. It will come. The hon. Lady raises an important point. That is why I would like to probe the Government even further. Water ingress is one part of this, but further consideration should be given to some of the elements that she has rightly raised.

If this provision had been in place 15 years ago, the likes of NHBC and P J Livesey could have been brought to task instead of my blameless constituents at Holden Mill. I encourage the Government to put more work into considering whether to apply the clause retrospectively to ensure that the residents of Holden Mill in Astley Bridge are protected. Will my hon. Friend the Minister help me by saying whether decompartmentalisation issues will be addressed in the code of practice and whether he is considering applying the code retrospectively?

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for tabling this important amendment. It is something that we are familiar with. My good friend and colleague, the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth has alluded to the fact that the amendment could be somewhat broader. I am sure that the Minister and the Department will address that in the code of practice. The Opposition are happy to support the amendment.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton North East for raising this important matter. It is clearly an area of great concern in his constituency. Too many people have been let down, and I am sorry to hear about the terrible experience his constituents have faced. Unfortunately, this is something that happens far too often. When a new home is built or an existing building is converted poorly water ingress is a serious issue and may cause serious distress and detrimental effects to homebuyers and their properties.

My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue in the wider context of improving the quality and safety of our built environment. Developers and warranty providers must meet their responsibilities and resolve issues quickly and fairly. It is unacceptable that people are stuck in homes through no fault of their own. However, in this case, the Government consider that the amendment is not necessary and that we have already met its intentions elsewhere in our statutory framework.

Developers are already under a legal duty to prevent water ingress. Requirements are set out in building regulations, in particular part C of the Building Regulations 2010, which already include requirements for resistance to contaminants and moisture. That includes ensuring that buildings are protected from ground moisture; precipitation, including wind-driven spray; condensation; and spillage of water. Guidance is available in approved document C on how to comply with this requirement.

In addition, the Building Safety Regulator has a duty in clause 5 to keep under review the safety and standards of all buildings, which would include ensuring that building regulations are fit for purpose and making recommendations if changes are needed. The developers’ code of practice provided for in this clause is about the standards of conduct and standards of quality of work expected of members of the new homes ombudsman’s scheme more generally, and may include developers complying with existing standards and requirements.

Once the new homes ombudsman is established, it will be able to hear complaints relating to a failure to abide by legal requirements and technical standards, as well as non-compliance with the code of practice, where one has been issued or approved by the Government. The code of practice is deliberately broad to allow flexibility in its content, including in the consideration of what should be said on promoting building and fire safety, which includes the issues of compartmentation and water ingress.

On retrospective application of the code of practice, the Government consider that such a change would not meet its intention. The code of practice will set out the expectations for the members of the new homes ombudsman’s scheme, which is yet to be established. The Bill as a whole aims to address the serious issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton North East, including building safety and redress, to make those responsible more accountable. That includes extending retrospectively the limitation period to bring an action under section 1 of the Defective Premises Act 1972. The Bill also extends the scope of the Act to cover work done after the initial provision of a dwelling, such as refurbishment work.

Having said all that, it is important that the issues are considered further for the code of practice, so that new build homes are safe and high quality. I thank my hon. Friend for raising the matter. I hope he will agree that the Government consider water ingress a serious issue. It is one that the Government have already placed a legal duty on developers to prevent. I therefore hope he will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Clause 132 enables the Secretary of State to issue or approve a developers’ code of practice on the standards of conduct and quality of work expected of members of the new homes ombudsman’s scheme. The code of practice is a way of setting out what is expected of the developer so that they and the homebuyer have a clear framework to work within. The code of practice may also help compliance and improve quality.

The code can be revised or replaced over time, and the current version must be made public. The new homes ombudsman must have regard to any code of practice approved or issued under this clause when determining complaints, and the scheme may allow complaints to be raised about non-compliance by developers with such a code. However, complaints to the ombudsman against its members will not be restricted to the failure to comply with the code of practice and will depend on the individual circumstances of the complaint.

Photo of Mark Logan Mark Logan Conservative, Bolton North East

I am not sure what I am meant to do at this point, Mr Davies.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

You should indicate whether you wish to push your amendment to a Division or withdraw it.

Photo of Mark Logan Mark Logan Conservative, Bolton North East

Oh, I see. I look forward to coming back to aspects of this issue in the future. I thank the Minister for his thorough response today, and in the light of his comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 132 ordered to stand part of the Bill.