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Hopes set on Bill to relieve leaseholders of burden four years after Grenfell Tower fire

14 June 2021

Diocese of London

People light candles at St Clement’s, Notting Dale, on Sunday, in remembrance of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire

People light candles at St Clement’s, Notting Dale, on Sunday, in remembrance of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire

ON THE fourth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, today, campaigners are lobbying MPs to support a Private Members’ Bill drawn up with leaseholders in an attempt to end the cladding crisis in the UK.

Based on the provisions of the Environment Protection Act 1990 as amended, the Defective Premises (Liability) Bill would establish a statutory framework to recover the direct and indirect remediation costs from responsible parties where a building is found not to have been constructed in accordance with building regulations in force at the time of construction.

It is based on an amendment brought by Dr Liam Fox to the Fire Safety Bill, but never put to the vote. The Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, attempted to table this amendment as a Private Members’ Bill in the House of Lords ballot last month. It received support from the Earl of Lytton, a former chartered surveyor; the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally; and the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, but, again, failed to gain the required votes. Outside the Lords, the Area Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, also endorsed it.

Today marks the fourth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire (News, 16 June 2017). The flammability of the now banned ACM cladding on the tower block in Kensington, London, is thought to be a cause of the rapid spread of the blaze, which killed 72 people. A national service was held at St Clement and St James, Notting Hill, on Sunday. Church bells are due to be tolled 72 times today.

Campaigners who worked with Parliamentary counsel, Daniel Greenberg, on the new Bill are urging Dr Fox to use his his Private Members’ Bill slot four to table it in the House of Commons, where, they believe, he is more likely to secure the required votes.

Over the past few months, the Commons have repeatedly rejected amendments to the Fire Safety Bill, brought by Dr Smith, which would have prohibited the Government from passing on the cost of replacing unsafe cladding on high-rise buildings to the leaseholders or tenants (News, 23 April; 26 March).

Currently, many leaseholders are expected to pay for this removal, or apply for government funds to do so, even those who bought the properties before the cladding was found to be unsafe. This has trapped some leaseholders in unsaleable properties. The Government has so far pledged about £5 billion towards the cost of removing cladding from buildings across England, after a widespread campaign by residents (News, 12 January; 10 February). This sum covers only one third of the £15 billion needed to replace all unsafe cladding in the country, however.

ALAMYThe New Providence Wharf development in London, last month, after a fire damaged the seventh, eighth, and ninth floors. Despite years of campaigning by leaseholders, and £200 million of funding from the Government to remove the now-banned ACM cladding on the exterior of the 170 private buildings in London, cladding had not been removed

One tenant posted on Twitter on Thursday: “I live in a flammable flat. I only own a % of it yet am liable for 100% of costs to make it safe. I could go bankrupt. I cannot sell. The developers are getting away with it. I am trapped.”

Dr Tomlin said that the anniversary was “an important but difficult day” for many. “It is made particularly difficult by the ongoing cladding crisis and the fear that something like this could happen again. Over those four years, the problems highlighted by Grenfell, rather than being resolved, have just become bigger as the scale of the building safety crisis has become clear. There is a real urgency to bring relief to those suffering mental and financial stress as a result of living in unsafe housing around the country.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury‘s Commission on Housing [News, 21 February] identified safety as one of the core elements of good housing; so a real priority should be to provide people with a sense that they are safe in their own homes. The Government’s Building Safety Bill is complex and will take time to get through Parliament; so in the light of the urgency needed, legislation such as that proposed under the ‘polluter pays’ principle could well be an effective way to recoup the money needed to enable people to enjoy the safety they need in their own homes.”

The Environment Protection Act enforces authorities to identify how land has been contaminated and ensure that the “appropriate persons” pay for the clean-up. Authorities are permitted to waive or reduce costs if there is a risk of business insolvency, or where the owner or occupier of the land is a charity or an individual homeowner. Based on this framework, under the Defective Premises (Liability) Bill, landowners would have a duty to apply to a local authority to determine whether a building was compliant with building regulations in force at the time of construction.

The local authority would have the power to undertake testing and to apportion liability for remediation costs between “appropriate persons” — who would include those responsible for the design, construction, or supervision of building work, and suppliers of materials. Failure to comply with a remediation-costs order would be punishable by a fine. The Secretary of State would be ultimately responsible for the guidance and regulations, including the setting of charges.

A campaigner, Steve Day, who bought his flat six years ago but is facing bankruptcy because of the cladding crisis, said on Thursday: “I believe this Bill has the power to end the crisis by putting money on the table from outside of the Treasury, and with the right pressure could force the Government to take on all the costs upfront, as they would have a far more substantial redress solution in place from those responsible.”

There was no time, he said, to wait for a redress solution in the forthcoming Building Safety Bill, which has been suggested by MPs and peers who are opposed to the Fire Safety amendments. “Its 100-plus clauses will take ages to get through Parliament. We need emergency legislation now, and the Polluter Pays Private Members’ Bill will force the Government to act, using an approach that is already on the statute book. The arrears bubble is about to go pop. Bills are being issued that could bankrupt tens of thousands of people.”

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