In recent months, Michael Gove has been upsetting not only the house-building industry but its defenders, too. The Levelling-up Secretary has been accused of ‘blackmail’ by online newspaper Cap X, which compared his actions to ‘Putin’s Russia or Erdogan’s Turkey’. The Telegraph mocked him up on a wrecking ball Miley Cyrus-style, and several trade press articles have accused him of ‘declaring war’ on the industry.
The reason? Gove has ordered housing developers to pay for ‘life safety’ remediation measures on blocks they built, which have been found to have serious fire safety defects in the aftermath of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire – regardless of whether they were to blame for the flaws or still own the building.
This order comes on top of a couple of new taxes – a 4 per cent boost to corporation tax and a forthcoming levy on new building projects – aimed at extracting money to fix problem blocks. All of this adds up to a lot of money – north of £5 billion over the next decade – to come from the house-building industry to fix dangerous buildings.
Builders have not been given much of a choice about whether they sign up to Gove’s plan – last year, he passed legislation which awarded him the power to effectively bar companies from building new homes if they didn’t. This would have shut down building sites and frozen income. It was a threat which left (most) builders in a position where they had no choice but to accept.
The builders say this is all too much. While most were happy to make some provision for contributing to fixing blocks they built and still owned, this will open them up to much wider historic liability. Shouldn’t they just pay for those where they were to blame?
The problem with this argument is the difficulty in figuring out exactly who is ‘to blame’ for the thousands of blocks around the country that still need fixing. Take