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Government tells developers to fix cladding crisis

Written by: Emma Lunn
Michael Gove has told housebuilders they must pay to remove dangerous cladding from tower blocks - but campaigners say leaseholders will still be stuck paying bills for other fire safety defects.

Gove has written to builders giving them a deadline of early March to agree a fully funded plan of action including remediating unsafe cladding on buildings between 11 and 18m tall, as well as taller blocks, currently estimated to be £4bn.

The secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities says he has overhauled the government’s approach to building safety. 

He said he will “take all steps necessary to make this happen”, including restricting access to government funding and future procurements, the use of planning powers and the pursuit of companies through the courts. 

He added that if industry fails to take responsibility, the government will “impose a solution in law”.

Thousands of leaseholders have received six-figure bills to pay for remedial work to make their homes safe after the Grenfell Tower fire.

Building inspections found hundreds of buildings covered in similar dangerous cladding and hundreds more blocks with numerous other fire safety defects. These homes were built by developers and signed off as safe by local councils. But it’s leaseholders who bought their homes in good faith who have been billed for repairs and remediation.

Many have also been left with spiralling insurance costs, service charges, and bills for expensive 24-hour “waking watch” patrols in case of fire.

Gove is due to make an oral statement to the House of Commons later today announcing plans to protect leaseholders who are trapped in unsellable homes.

He will also unveil a package of measures he says will “restore common sense to the industry and end the situation of buildings being declared unsafe when they are not”.

In the letter to developers, Gove said: “Our home should be a source of security and pride. For too many of the people living in properties your industry has built in recent years, their home has become a source of misery. This must change.

“It is neither fair nor decent that innocent leaseholders, many of whom have worked hard and made sacrifices to get a foot on the housing ladder, should be landed with bills they cannot afford to fix problems they did not cause.”

Gove claimed that the government had “accepted its share of responsibility” by making “significant financial provision” through the Building Safety Fund. 

However, thousands of people still living in buildings covered in dangerous cladding nearly five years after the Grenfell Tower fire might disagree.

Although today’s news was widely welcomed, campaigners pointed out that leaseholders in buildings with other fire-safety problems – such as wooden balconies – will still face huge bills.

Stephen McPartland MP, who has supported leaseholders, Tweeted: “Cladding is an external fire safety defect, so I also need clarification that internal defects which developers are responsible for, such as missing firebreaks will also be remediated at no cost to leaseholders. 

“These firebreaks stop fires spreading from flat to flat and give emergency services the time to respond to save lives.” 

Gove said developers must take forward all necessary remediation work “at pace” – prioritising those with greatest risks first and in all cases “finding the quickest and most proportionate solution to make buildings safe”.

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