Why developers deserve to pay for the cladding crisis

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

The scandal of the government’s cladding cover-up

The Number 10 Christmas parties during lockdown have dominated the news agenda in recent days – and for good reason. But there has arguably been an even bigger government scandal brewing, one which has largely been overlooked in Westminster. On Tuesday the government told the Grenfell Tower Inquiry that it was ‘deeply sorry’ for the ‘past failures’ which contributed to the devastating 2017 fire which killed 72 people. Apologies always come in varying forms of breadth and sincerity and this one (as is often the case when delivered by an expensive QC) was carefully limited. The government said that it had assumed fire regulations were being monitored ‘at a local

Every MP must see this play: Value Engineering – Scenes from the Grenfell Inquiry reviewed

Scenes from the Grenfell Inquiry is a gripping, horrifying drama. Nicolas Kent and Richard Norton-Taylor have sifted through the public hearings and dramatised the most arresting exchanges. Ron Cook, often miscast as a comedian, is superb as the frosty and occasionally irascible inquisitor, Richard Millett. Early on, he asks the witnesses ‘not to indulge in a merry-go-round of buck-passing’. Later, he comments acidly, ‘That invitation has not been accepted.’ Every witness has something to hide and something to be ashamed of. A fireman searching for a child on the upper floors can’t explain why he didn’t rouse families from their flats and help them escape. A witness describes the inferno’s

Why isn’t the Tory party helping desperate leaseholders?

Marwa al-Sabouni is a Syrian architect who watched her home city of Homs destroyed during the Syrian conflict between 2011 and 2014. Out of that experience, she penned an  intensely moving and haunting account of what the idea of home means. She writes of how the dwellings we live in are intimately connected with our own sense of self: ‘Our homes don’t just contain our life earnings, they stand for what we are. To destroy one’s home should be taken as an equal crime to destroying one’s soul.’ It’s a statement that echoes the biblical vision of every person able to ‘live in safety, under their own vine and under their

The Building Safety Bill betrays the victims of the cladding scandal

Monday promised to be a significant day for those living in high rises across England. The Building Safety Bill, which has been sold by the government as the biggest change to building safety in a generation, was published in its final form before it goes through parliament. Introduced more than four years after the Grenfell fire killed 72 people, the Bill is aimed at ensuring a similar catastrophe never happens again. But will it succeed? The 208-page document includes wide-ranging measures that will overhaul building safety regulation exposed as wholly inadequate by Grenfell, as well as significantly change the way in which high-rise buildings are designed, built, managed and lived

The building safety bill won’t end Britain’s cladding nightmare

The government’s Building Safety Bill has been a long time coming, but its publication today offers little certainty for residents caught up in Britain’s cladding scandal. For leaseholders, the bad news is this: many will remain trapped in buildings cloaked in combustible external wall systems. Despite the housing secretary Robert Jenrick’s insistence that the new system would ‘reassure the vast majority of residents’, there is little in the bill to alleviate their worries.  To throw more money at it will inevitably lead to more corners being cut and workers without the proper competence being drafted in The bill proposes the creation of a new Building Safety Regulator (BSR), although an interim regulator

Sunday shows round-up: Face masks to become ‘personal choice’ after 19 July, says Robert Jenrick

Robert Jenrick – We will have to ‘learn to live with the virus’ The Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick was the government’s chief spokesman today as England edges ever closer towards the planned relaxation of Covid restrictions on 19 July. Jenrick continued to make positive noises about this date, telling Trevor Phillips that data being examined by the Prime Minister was looking promising – and suggesting that another postponement of ‘Freedom Day’ was highly unlikely. However, Jenrick’s cautious comments did not rule out the return of restrictions in the winter, should cases continue to rise: RJ: It does seem as if we can now move forward… to a much more permissive

Cladding risks creating a political crisis for the Tories

Today, for the third time in as many months, MPs will vote on an amendment to prevent the costs of removing cladding and fixing other fire safety defects being passed on to residents. For some time now, thousands of British homeowners have been left fearing for their lives and facing ruinous bills after fire safety issues following the Grenfell Tower fire were identified in tens of thousands of tall and medium rise buildings across the country. In most cases, building owners have been able to charge individual flat owners to fix the defects, even though their apartments were signed off as safe under government regulations at the time. The failure

Labour ramps up its cladding campaign

The Fire Safety Bill comes back to the Commons this afternoon for MPs to consider the changes made by peers — and there’s an amendment in there that Labour hopes is going to cause a bit of a fuss. It’s the reiteration of what’s become known as the ‘McPartland-Smith amendment’ after the two Conservative MPs — Stephen McPartland and Royston Smith — who originally made the demand. The amendment bans leaseholders from being made liable for the costs of remediation work, such as removing flammable cladding from their homes. Raising the cladding issue is something Labour plans to do repeatedly in certain areas as the May poll approaches This amendment was

The Tories’ cladding crisis fix falls short again

Most of the Conservative MPs who responded to Robert Jenrick’s statement this afternoon about an extra £3.5 billion to help with the cladding crisis sounded relieved that the government is finally doing something. But if ministers think that the response in the Chamber means they can relax, they are in for a bit of a shock. The two most active Conservative MPs on this issue are Stephen McPartland and Royston Smith, and neither spoke in the Commons after the announcement. But both have been critical elsewhere. McPartland called the policy – which will only offer loans to leaseholders in blocks between 11 and 18 metres high – a ‘betrayal’ and

Six ways the state failed to prevent the cladding crisis

Talk to anyone for long enough about the UK’s building safety crisis and you soon will be asked: why are we in such a mess? Why, in one of the wealthiest countries on earth with a functioning planning and regulatory system, are thousands of people currently trapped in homes built with dangerous and combustible materials? How could we have allowed so many unsafe buildings to be built, signed off, sold and inhabited for all these years? Like all questions of this scale, there are multiple answers which combine to form a complex picture. But while people are quick to draw conclusions about reckless builders cutting corners, there is less awareness

Boris Johnson had an easy ride at PMQs

Boris Johnson had a pretty easy ride at Prime Minister’s Questions today, despite Keir Starmer raising two policy problems that the government is really struggling to stay on top of. The Labour leader asked his first three questions on the quarantine policy, pushing Johnson for much tougher rules, and then turned to the cladding scandal. As we have repeatedly covered on Coffee House, the latter is a huge consumer crisis that is leaving thousands of people trapped in homes they cannot sell or with bills for remedial works to remove dangerous cladding reaching into the tens of thousands of pounds. Starmer channelled Jeremy Corbyn and quoted some of those affected.

The ‘cladding tax’ could end up being a disastrous mistake

Since the first buildings with dangerous cladding were discovered in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, one question has hung continuously over all efforts to make them safe: who is going to pay? Now, after three and a half years of stilted progress, the government appears to be on the verge of answering that question. The answer it is reaching for could prove to be the most controversial and politically damaging mistake since the building safety saga began. The government’s current proposal began when Michael Wade, an insurance guru, was drafted by the Cabinet Office to help find a solution to the cladding problem. The idea he is reported

The Grenfell Tower inquiry is uncovering a major corporate scandal

A picture of an enormous corporate scandal has emerged at the Grenfell Tower inquiry to little fanfare over the last three weeks. The mammoth inquiry has been slowly going through the evidence surrounding the build-up to the fire, which killed 72 people in June 2017. Until November, it had been examining the fitting of the deadly cladding system to the walls of the building. What the inquiry revealed was dispiriting but predictable: pennies were pinched, no one in an enormous chain of construction professionals took responsibility for key safety decisions, and the external oversight of their actions was almost non-existent. In recent weeks though, the tone of the inquiry changed,

The perils of shared ownership

Fancy buying half a flat, paying 100 per cent of the maintenance and the cost of putting right a developer’s shoddy work? Therein lies the great scandal at the heart of shared ownership, the government scheme which BBC Panorama exposed last week but which I others were writing about over a decade ago. Shared ownership has allowed developers to put fancy price tags on properties which they might otherwise struggle to sell The concept sits at the heart of government efforts to increase the rate of home-ownership. Look around at the prices of London flats, compare them with average London salaries and you wonder how anyone can get on the

Another Tory revolt looms, this time on cladding

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for Boris Johnson to keep track of the many different revolts within his own party. There are the groups pressuring the government on its response to coronavirus, on its treatment of Northern seats, and on Brexit. Now there’s a new row brewing on a completely different matter: cladding. As Emma Byrne recently explained, this scandal has been building for months, but ministers seem to be doing very little about it. Currently, there are hundreds of thousands of people stuck in properties which have flammable cladding similar to that used on Grenfell Tower. Many of them are facing eye-watering bills of tens of thousands of pounds because

Letters: The growing cladding crisis

Cladding fear Sir: Emma Byrne’s report on the cladding scandal (‘Ill clad’, 29 August) will have given many of those affected real hope that our plight is acknowledged. I am the first in my family to go to university, so getting on the property ladder was a major achievement. I bought my flat under shared ownership. Three years ago, we were told our building did not have dangerous cladding — only to learn later that this was not the case. My housing association is still unable to tell us how dangerous my home is. But it has warned we may have to pay to have the cladding removed. If the

Is the government about to bankrupt thousands of homeowners?

Within the next year or two, I could go bankrupt. My mistake: to join a government-backed affordable housing scheme and purchase a one-bedroom flat in east London. For the past four years, it has been my pride and joy — not to mention my savings, my pension and my financial future. I was grateful for the government’s help in getting a foothold in the city. But now another government policy is hurtling towards me, against which I have no defence. Nor do potentially tens of thousands of first-time buyers and the owners of affordable housing in my position. It might be the next big scandal to hit the government. It’s

The new cladding scandal that could bankrupt a generation

Within the next year or two, I could go bankrupt. My mistake: to join a government-backed affordable housing scheme and purchase a one-bedroom flat in east London. For the past four years, it has been my pride and joy — not to mention my savings, my pension and my financial future. I was grateful for the government’s help in getting a foothold in the city. But now another government policy is hurtling towards me, against which I have no defence. Nor do potentially tens of thousands of first-time buyers and the owners of affordable housing in my position. It might be the next big scandal to hit the government. It’s