Today my Labour colleague Florence Eshalomi secured a Westminster Hall debate on ‘Residential Leaseholders and Interim Fire Safety Costs’, which provided an opportunity to press Ministers on the ongoing cladding and building safety scandal. I pressed for the Government to own the problem and resolve it urgently at no cost to leaseholders, highlighting local issues.
You can read my speech below:
It is a pleasure to contribute in this debate with you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi) on securing the debate and on opening it so powerfully.
I represent several blocks across central Sheffield that are affected by the cladding and fire safety scandal, with leaseholders being destroyed by the failure of the Government to come up with a solution that matches the scale of the problem. The Metis building has gained a lot of public attention, and last night there was a meeting of leaseholders there. Five weeks after applying for the waking watch fund, there is still no money. Alarms take some weeks to install, so they face substantially more waking watch costs on top of the £120,000 they have already paid. There is no plan yet for missing external cavity barriers or insulation, which they are told will not come this year because of the cost, estimated at £6.2 million, for which they have been rejected by the building safety fund, meaning that they will not get an EWS1 form, leaving their properties unsaleable and them facing bills of up to £50,000.
Replacement of ACM cladding for Metis is being funded, but I have been contacted by a commercial leaseholder with a small business operating from the building who faces a bill of £327,000 to pay the shortfall on ACM remediation because of the cash limits in the scheme. She fears that will drive her out of business, after many years.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall described the impact of interim costs really well. One of those interim costs is insurance, as the hon. Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) highlighted. In the Metis building, they faced a 60% increase in insurance costs. The situation is worse for residents in the Wicker Riverside complex, who were evacuated before Christmas because of multiple fire safety failings. Their building has become uninsurable, exposing them to huge risk and potential breach of mortgage agreements. They met the Building Safety Minister last week and it appears that the Government are relying on a market solution. No market solution is forthcoming. There is a precedent for the Government underwriting insurance in such situations to enable a solution. Will the Minister consider such a way forward?
The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) said that the Government should not foot the bill for the failings of others. He is right, but only the Government can act to hold those responsible to account, as the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) pointed out. Only the Government can ensure that these issues are dealt with with the urgency that is needed. We should also recognise that the Government have much more responsibility than the leaseholders, because they oversaw the flawed system of building inspections that signed off so many of these unsafe buildings. These leaseholders are the victims of comprehensive regulatory failure and that is why it is the responsibility of Government to step in, own the problem and resolve it, without any costs to leaseholders, either now or in the future, through any loans scheme.
We are talking about unbearable pressure and unimaginable strain on the young people and families who are trapped in homes that are unsafe and unsaleable. The Minister knows that this is a grave injustice. He must assure us that he will remedy it.