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Leaseholders and Cladding

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:29 pm on 12th February 2020.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 3:29 pm, 12th February 2020

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Davies. I congratulate you on your expert chairing of the debate, which has allowed many Members to have their say. I will try to limit my comments so that Members can intervene on the Minister, if required.

I approach the debate from a slightly different angle, because we do not have the leaseholder/freeholder issue in Scotland, although we have continuing issues with cladding. We also have issues over which the UK Government have had an influence but have not had the best communication with the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government have ended up with a problem not of their making that they are struggling to put right. Finance and insurance are obviously reserved to Westminster, and the Scottish Government have limited influence on the actions of mortgage companies, banks and insurers.

I turn first to advice note 14, which pertains to fire safety in buildings post Grenfell. It was introduced following very limited consultation with the Scottish Government, which means mortgage lenders now insist that cladded properties over 18 metres high have specific documentation to evidence how well they comply with safety standards. Most properties built in Scotland in the past five years comply with the safety standards set out by the Scottish Government. Our fire standards and building regs are better and more comprehensive than those in England, so we do not have a problem of the scale that right hon. and hon. Members have identified. Without the requisite certification, however, people cannot meet the new standards now being imposed by lenders. As a result, surveyors who have been instructed to compile home reports—it is a routine exercise when properties are sold or remortgaged in Scotland—have found that they have been imposed with nil valuations.

Constituents across the country, including many in my constituency of Glasgow Central, have spoken in terms similar to those used by right hon. and hon. Members: about not being able to sell their properties or to remortgage. As right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned, in some cases house sales have fallen through, leaving residents out of pocket.

Ruth Cadbury described how somebody could not take up a job. I know of somebody who had arranged to move to Poland with his Polish wife, but their house sale fell through at the last minute. All the arrangements had been made to move to Poland, but they now cannot sell their home and are stuck. Despite the vast majority of properties being certified by council building control departments, many surveyors refuse to commit to a valuation without seeing specific certification on the cladding.

In response, the Scottish Government have written to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government four times: on 18 October, 8 November, 19 December and again on 27 January. As far as I am aware, that correspondence has not yet been formally responded to, which is completely unacceptable. I hope the Minister will address this issue, if she can. The correspondence from the Scottish Government underlined their willingness to work in collaboration to find a suitable solution that works for the particular set of circumstances in Scotland, but we do not seem to have got very far. The Scottish Government have highlighted that, although they appreciate that MHCLG has introduced the EWS1 form to bring about a resolution, it relies in some respects on a tenure system that does not exist in Scotland. That needs to be addressed.

My constituents have raised their concerns about a number of properties in Glasgow Central, including Lancefield Quay, which was built in phases and has different issues across those phases. Stephen Timms talked about having different types of cladding on a single building, which highlights that the whole building, rather than just one type of cladding, needs to be considered.

My constituent Lisa Jamie Murray has been working incredibly hard to highlight the situation at the Templeton Building next to Glasgow green, because there is non-compliant ACM on the top two floors alone. As far as I am aware, it was compliant at the time of construction and conformed to the regs in place when the building warrant was obtained, but it seems that some of these things have been missed over time. There has also been a change to the building, which means that there is essentially a line of cladding up its side that would act almost as a chimney. If there were a fire at the bottom of the building, it would scoot up the outside of the building and on to the top, which is terrifying.

It has been incredibly difficult for the residents of the building to ascertain who is responsible for the cladding. Is it the original developer, or somebody who made the changes in between times? Do the residents now have to take this up and face the costs that right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned? It is incredibly difficult to make sure that we can reach a solution. It is very important, particularly because this is based at Glasgow green and there are lots of events there; it is a very busy part Glasgow.

I turn to some of the issues raised by advice note 14. Right hon. and hon. Members have hinted at some of the issues with inspections needing to be carried out by a qualified certificated body, and there are capacity issues in the industry. As Meg Hillier mentioned, perhaps we need to consider bringing more experts into the country to address that. We could make adjustments to immigration as well, because the industry does not have the people to do this. Time is pressing and money is a factor, and we need to find a way to reach that point.

The new consulted advice note, issued in January, introduced a fundamental change because it applies to all multi-storey and multi-occupied buildings, including those under 18 metres, which brings a whole load of extra buildings into scope. Inside Housing highlights the increased burden, saying:

“Compliance with the advice note and recovering costs both require expert evidence from a limited pool of fire engineers and forensic architects, and place an additional administrative and financial burden on building owners.”

What is the Minister doing to meet the challenge? Without the adequate people to do that, we will be waiting for a long time.

Listening to residents is fundamentally important. Dame Judith Hackitt mentioned that the Scottish Government have listened well to residents in order to forge their response. The Scottish Government’s Fire Safety Committee is still meeting and taking on concerns. I ask the Minister to listen closely to MPs and residents right across the country, and to bring a response that meets those needs. It is clear that the fund being set up is far from adequate. It is far from being wide enough in what it encompasses, and the Minister needs to consider expanding it very soon so that people can get on with the work.

Lastly, I echo the words of Anne Marie Morris, who called for a VAT exemption. I have asked for a VAT exemption on multiple occasions in the Chamber. The Budget is coming up, and there is an opportunity to remove VAT from sprinkler systems, cladding and house repair systems. If the Government were to do that, it would be a huge help to people who want to get work done quickly.