We cautiously welcome today’s shock government announcement on EWS1 and the need to inject some much-needed common sense into how building safety is being handled for low- and medium-rise apartment buildings – a true and proportionate risk-based approach is something we have been calling for since we relaunched our campaign.
But we’ve been here before. In November, MHCLG triumphantly announced that blocks with ‘no cladding’ would not require EWS1 certification. It took just hours for the news to be shot down by UK Finance, which represents mortgage lenders, and the Building Societies Association, both of which said they had not given their sign-off. Some 450,000 leaseholders – despite the headline-grabbing press release – weren’t freed in the end. In March, the Government heaped praise on RICS for its updated guidance note on valuing cladded buildings and pinned its hopes on a collateral assessment somehow being one that would assess risk to life – yet again, this reliance on industry to solve this crisis failed. At every turn, the Government has sought to find solace in the market even though it has been abundantly clear for years that the only body truly capable of ending this nightmare is the Government itself.
As many as three million leaseholders now live in flats that are unsaleable and unmortgageable – with just one in ten buildings thought to pass EWS1 checks – as much as Robert Jenrick, Dame Judith Hackitt and other experts like to tell us otherwise. Having spent years dealing with the way this Government tries to pull the wool over our eyes, we fear this may only be another face-saving exercise to try to stop more and more Conservative MPs from taking action against their self-styled party of home ownership from letting leaseholders pick up the tab for collective state and industry failure.
We must also note how the MHCLG press release initially stated that a report had found ‘no systemic risk of fire in flats under 18 metres’ but has now been changed to a less easily dismissed ‘major intervention from government and lenders’. The MHCLG spin machine is clearly hard at work but we need actions not caveated false promises and claims that the misery and limbo we have been trapped in for years will now automatically come to an end.
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