Shepherd Construction's Capitol Way development as visualised 8 years ago(see Barry Gardiner's speech below)
Months of campaigning by leaseholders trapped in their buildings for want of an EWS1 safety certificate following the tragic Grenfell fire bore fruit yesterday when the Opposition held a debate on the motion:
Unsafe Cladding – Protecting Tenants and Leaseholders
That this House
calls on the Government to urgently establish the extent of dangerous cladding and prioritise buildings according to risk;
provide upfront funding to ensure cladding remediation can start immediately;
protect leaseholders and taxpayers from the cost by pursuing those responsible for the cladding crisis;
and update Parliament once a month in the form of a Written Ministerial Statement by the Secretary of State.
Lucie Gutfreund, a tireless local campaigner, co- leader of End Our Cladding Scandal and founder of Brent Cladding Action Group, and a leaseholder in South Kilburn, told Wembley Matters today:
The End Our Cladding Scandal campaigners are pleased with the result of the Opposition Day debate and the resulting vote on protecting leaseholders from unfair costs of remediating unsafe buildings. Even if the approved Labour motion is non-binding, it puts pressure on the Government to abide by the motion in the best way they can. Brent MPs Barry Gardiner and Tulip Siddiq spoke passionately about protecting their constituents and pushing for those who are responsible for the cladding crisis to be made to pay to make buildings safe. Across Brent, thousands of leaseholders live in unsafe buildings and are facing bankruptcy from the extortionate amounts being asked. The highest amount we have heard of is approximately £100,000 per flat in a housing association development in Alperton. No one has this kind of money; this situation is breaking not just leaseholders' bank accounts, but also residents’ mental health.
She urged leaseholders of affected buildings in Brent to get in touch with the local cladding action group on the closed Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/713506399518392
These are the speeches from Barry Gardiner, Tulip Siddiq and Bob Blackman in support of the campaign’s demands:
Tulip Siddiq (Labour Hampstead & Kilburn)
The pain of the Grenfell fire was felt very deeply in my constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn. Those who died were our neighbours and our friends. Some survivors were rehoused in Camden and Brent and became part of our community. Then, one Friday night, shortly after the fire, thousands of my constituents had to be evacuated from the Chalcots estate in Swiss Cottage after it emerged that they had ACM cladding that was near-identical to that on Grenfell Tower. I ask all those on the Government Benches to consider what it must be like to live in a property that they know could face the same fate as Grenfell, and where a 24/7 waking watch patrol is required to make sure that the building is not on fire. That is the reality for many of my constituents living in the new-builds in and around West Hampstead Square, many blocks in south Kilburn and other parts of Brent, and over 70 private sector buildings in Camden that still have dangerous ACM cladding.
Perhaps the worst part of it is that the residents—the leaseholders—who had no part in creating this crisis, are being forced to pay to fix it and to pay for the waking watches, the fire safety measures and the replacement of the unsafe cladding that threatens their lives. One constituent in Kensal Rise who bought their flat using the Government’s Help to Buy loan scheme wrote to me recently to say that they are being made to pay for cladding remediation works. As she so aptly puts it, it is“a disgusting abuse that a government would aim to help so many and then bankrupt those they aimed to help by not legally protecting leaseholders from these costs”.
To add insult to injury, none of these people can sell their homes. Many others are unable to sell simply because they are being forced to wait many years for an EWS1 form. Lucie Gutfreund, a constituent of mine who co-founded the End our Cladding Scandal campaign, told me that she and others are effectively trapped, facing crippling bills, and that the mental turmoil is ruining their lives and the lives of so many.
Grenfell was a tragedy. The Government’s response has been a travesty. I am urging Ministers to do what they can and what they should have done a long time ago: make these buildings safe, shield leaseholders from the costs and make those who installed dangerous cladding pay. Anything less is unforgivable.
Barry Gardiner (Labour Brent North)
Residents trapped in unsafe buildings are fed up with sympathy; they want action—certainly those in Elizabeth House, Damask Court, Capitol Way, and many other developments in my constituency do. They know that this debate should not just be about who pays. Lord Greenhalgh has admitted that the Government’s building safety fund will not even cover one third of the cladding defects, and residents in Capitol Way know that this debate should not just be about cladding. This is about a whole range of fire safety defects that have turned their homes into a building site for the past three years, and threaten to do so for three years more.
The Minister started the debate by saying that the Government “absolutely expect” building owners to do the right thing. Three and a half years on—really? The Government hold developers responsible. The developers hold the construction companies responsible. The construction companies hold the building control inspectors responsible, and the building control inspectors say that the Government privatised the system of building control, creating a downward spiral of monitoring and control, as inspection became a competition about who would let the builders get away with the most short cuts. Nobody blames my constituents, yet they are now paying for all those mistakes. They are unable to move house, unable to sell their homes, and unable to get on with their lives. They are trapped in unsafe accommodation, with no end in sight.
In advance of this debate I was sent documents that show that many of the fire safety defects that exist in the Capitol Way development were not mistakes. I have reason to believe that that was known by the construction company, Shepherd Construction, by the approved inspectors, Head Projects Building Control, which is now in liquidation, and by the project managers for the development, who were from CBRE. Those defects were known about and recorded in reports that were prepared for CBRE by its quality assurance agent. Those reports were then doctored. Evidence suggests that that took place before residents were moved into those unsafe properties.
Given that there was full knowledge of the statutory breaches of the fire safety elements of building regulations, it is clear that life was put at risk. I believe that therefore constituted a criminal offence, and that withholding such information from leaseholders, who purchased their apartments in good faith, was fraud by false representation. There was a duty to disclose that information, but no such disclosure was made. In my view, that means my constituents were victims of fraud.
In July 2019, the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government issued a written statement to say that all cladding remediation would be completed by June 2020. Seven months on, instead of expecting building owners and the construction industry to do the right thing, the Government should wake up, impose a windfall levy on the industry, and get this work done.
Bob Blackman (Conservative Harrow East)
It is a pleasure to follow the Chairman of the Select Committee, who spoke about the inquiries that we have done—seemingly endlessly—over the past six and a half years. Three and a half years after the Grenfell tragedy, we still have leaseholders living in unsaleable, un-mortgageable, uninsurable, unsafe properties, and that is a disgrace that we have to put right. Progress on remediation has unfortunately been slow. It picked up last year, which is good news, but it has been slow and we still have buildings with unsafe cladding, which makes the homes almost impossible to sell, should someone so wish.
This is a complicated debate and a complicated issue, because we have ACM and non-ACM cladding and we have other fire safety issues, to which the Chairman of the Select Committee has referred. The Government, however, are responsible for two things that are important in this process: first, the testing regime, which is not fit for purpose and needs fundamental reform to ensure that cladding and other things that are put in buildings are safe; and secondly, the building regulations that control them.
We have a problem with building ownership, which is complex and unclear, with many buildings owned by offshore trusts and other organisations. We have to deal with those particular issues, but it is fundamental that leaseholders should not have to pay a penny piece towards the cost of remediating unsafe cladding.
The Government have rightly come forward with the Fire Safety Bill and the Building Safety Bill, and I sat through the pre-legislative scrutiny on the Building Safety Bill. The problem with the Building Safety Bill is that it will take a very long time before it comes into law and is actually put into practice. If the Government are against the amendments to the Fire Safety Bill tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Itchen (Royston Smith) and for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland), they are honour bound to come forward with alternative amendments that meet the fundamental principle that leaseholders should not pay.
The key is this: what do we do for the people who are in this position? Surveys cost an enormous amount of money. The industry cannot have the capacity at the moment to rectify all the damage that has been done. What is clear is that we need to ensure that the building owners and those responsible foot the bill. We have to end self-certification of buildings. It is unacceptable that building developers can just self-certify that their buildings are safe and are within the scope. We have to make sure that the Government extend the building safety fund into next year, increase the amount of money available, and make sure that the work is done—if necessary, taking over these buildings, remediating them, and then turning them into commonhold so that the leaseholders know that they have a safe building and are not paying a penny.
Bob Blackman, along with other Tories, did not vote in the denate. Dawn Butler Mo, joined her fellow Brent MPs in voting for the motion.
Meanwhile leaseholders and shared ownership residents at the Quadrant Court and Forum House buildings in Wembley Park, the first new builds to be completed in the regeneration, heard the bad news from landlords First Port that the fire risk survey of the blocks could only achieve a ‘B2’ EWS1. First Port said:
As you know, we recently commissioned an intrusive survey to find out more information about the external wall system at Quadrant Court. This information is needed as part of the process to obtain an EWS1 form for your building, as a result of the Government’s changing guidance on building and fire safety.
The intrusive survey has now been completed and an independent fire engineer has reviewed the findings. The survey has advised that there are concerns regarding certain aspects of the external wall system. This means that the specialist engineer can only grant a ‘B2’ EWS1 form at the moment, which unfortunately won’t satisfy a mortgage lender.
However, the independent engineer has advised that there is no requirement for any additional fire safety measures for your building. This means there is no need for additional fire alarm installation, or a waking watch, which would have incurred significant cost. We have been advised that a further survey of the external wall system would be prudent with the possibility of raising the B2 rating to a B1, this will satisfy most mortgage lenders. This survey will be undertaken by the simplest means and carried out in the next couple of weeks.
In the event that the rating stays at B2, this would mean that the external wall system should be remediated in order to meet the latest safety standards. Once remediation is undertaken this should then satisfy the EWS1 requirements and enable an EWS1 form of a higher rating, which mortgage lenders should then accept, to be granted for your building. I have received clarification from Quintain that Quadrant Court was built to BBA certified standards upon completion in 2008.
These measures are being undertaken as a result of recent changes in regulations made by the Government.
Building Safety Fund
As you know, Forum House and Quadrant Court were both registered with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) for the Building Safety Fund and we are delighted that Forum House has been invited to apply for funding. To put this into context 2,821 buildings were registered last year and only 294 have so far been invited to apply for funding, Forum House is in this group. 519 have submitted all the required information to MHCLG but are waiting for the invitation to apply, Quadrant Court is in this group. There doesn’t seem to be any reason other than time and due process that would dictate why one building over another is invited to apply so we are anticipating an invitation for Quadrant Court over the coming weeks. It is important to note that we will wait to understand the outcome of this application before starting any remediation works which could incur costs that we will turn to the fund to cover, however, the second intrusive survey can go ahead as planned.
Residents are in disrepute with First Port over charges for the works and made it clear that residents agreeing to pay for an intrusive survey did not mean they accepted that they were responsible for paying for any consequential remediation works. At Quadrant Court work was needed on lifts and 44 fire doors had to be removed and refitted to be compliant according to the risk assessment.