Michael Gove has warned developers and freeholders against using current economic difficulties to avoid their responsibilities for carrying out remedial repairs to unsafe buildings.
Gove (pictured), who was reappointed as communities secretary last month after leaving the post in July, emphasised his determination to resolve the issue in a House of Commons debate on the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill on Monday.
He said there had been “indications from some speaking apparently on behalf of developers that, because of the global economic headwinds we are all facing…they feel that the weight of obligation that has been placed on their shoulders should perhaps be lessened somewhat”.
Gove stressed that it “cannot be the case that economic conditions, which affect us all, are being used by developers, or anyone else, to shuffle off their obligations”.
He added: “There are some freeholders – organisations of significant means – that are, again, trying to delay or dilute their responsibilities. That is simply not acceptable.”
The communities secretary also stated that “there is no way that plcs and other organisations with healthy balance sheets and surpluses, and CEOs who are earning handsome remuneration, can somehow use global economic conditions as an excuse for shuffling off their responsibility”.
He continued: “That just will not do. All of us across the House will work to ensure that the work of remediation is done and that there will be no hiding place for those responsible.”
The government is currently in negotiations over a contract that would commit developers to remediate unsafe buildings over 11 metres in height. Almost 50 developers have so far signed a pledge to do this in principle, but negotiations over the details are ongoing.
Last week, a report from the Home Builders Federation (HBF) claimed that a series of new taxes, levies and regulations – including this building-safety pledge and the building-safety levy – would add £4.5bn per year to homebuilders’ costs and impair their ability to function.
An HBF spokesperson said: “We are committed to the principle that leaseholders should not pay and are continuing positive negotiations with government to agree a legal contract that reflects the principles of the pledge.
“In that regard we are currently awaiting the government’s response to the latest constructive points we’ve put forward. Housebuilders have committed billions to remediate their own buildings and to fund work on blocks over 18 metres built by foreign builders and other third parties.
“We continue to urge government to deliver on its commitment to seek contributions from other responsible parties such that an equitable solution can be agreed for all affected buildings.”
New building-safety regulations are being implemented following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.
Today, as part of final statements made to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities apologised for failing to realise that the regulatory system in place at the time of the fire was “broken”.
Meanwhile, final statements made by many of the private companies involved were characterised by the counsel to the inquiry as a “merry-go-round of buck-passing”.
Councils and housing associations have responsibility for many buildings that need remediation. The Local Government Association (LGA) said that the government should fund remediation works up front before forcing those in the construction industry responsible for the defects to pay.
The LGA’s housing spokesperson, councillor David Renard, said: “The LGA has long argued that blameless leaseholders and social housing tenants should not have to pay for fire safety defects. Remediation orders promise to go a long way in protecting leaseholders, and councils are keen to understand how these work in practice.
“Council tenants and housing associations must be protected from the cost of fixing dangerous cladding and other fire safety defects – the government needs to fund these works up front and then make those within the industry who are responsible – including those who have mis-sold dangerous products – foot the bill.”