We thank Michael Gove and his Department for their work to ensure that 39 developers, who were initially asked to sign the Government’s pledge a year ago, have so far signed the developer remediation contract. The “naming and shaming” of those who have still failed to take responsibility is appreciated – and long overdue. Mr Gove’s apology to leaseholders for the many years that we have been forced to wait for our homes to be made safe is also welcome. However, the time for tough talk is clearly over.
We await the publication of the details regarding the Responsible Actors’ Scheme next week. But whilst Mr Gove may want to allow a “little bit of leeway” to those developers who are dragging their heels, the urgent focus must be on the lives of the innocent leaseholders still caught in the middle of these high-level power games.
We ask Mr Gove to ensure that buildings where a developer has not signed the contract are made safe without further delay by the Government stepping in, on the same terms as the developer contract, with action subsequently being taken to recover costs from those developers. Signs of progress are welcome, but this is only a minor step forward for the small fraction of leaseholders who have a developer who has signed the contract. They now face battles ahead to ensure all required life-critical fire safety work is actually completed. It is essential that there is effective and robust oversight of the work at each building to ensure developers are no longer able to focus on their profits over our safety.
The number of buildings covered by these contracts is only a fraction of the unsafe buildings across the country, less than 15%. On 30th January, Mr Gove said that the funding schemes for remediating the other 85% of buildings had been “turbocharged”; however, we have seen little evidence of this in practice. The mid-rise scheme still remains closed for thousands of unsafe buildings.
Many leaseholders have spent thousands of pounds already in the years since Grenfell and the Department has decided that the developers shouldn’t be asked to pay that money back. In Ireland, the government is implementing a retrospective redress scheme, while our government has chosen not to. This is palpably unfair and sits uneasily with the notion of justice, which leaseholders had hoped Mr Gove would be able to fulfil.
More, much more, must be done – including the pursuit of freeholders and construction product manufacturers who have so far avoided their responsibilities and not been held to account. Action against individual companies is one thing, but we must see all such industry stakeholders held fully accountable, at true pace, with resultant funds used to protect leaseholders quickly.
Mr Gove may say that mortgage lending on affected flats is taking place, but the lived experience of leaseholders trying to sell or remortgage contradicts this. Hundreds of thousands of leaseholders also continue to suffer extortionate building insurance premiums, and we still await news of how this aspect of the scandal will be mitigated. This has gone on for far too long.
We welcome Mr Gove’s recognition that the Government has created a category of “non-qualifying” leaseholders which has left countless ordinary people facing uncapped costs to make properties safe. When we met Mr Gove in January, he heard directly from Non-Qualifying Leaseholders; he knows that all leaseholders are blameless and that he must do more to save their futures from ruin.
On the 69-month anniversary of the tragic events at Grenfell, the suffering and limbo still faced by so many residents in unsafe buildings across the country must be squarely in Mr Gove’s mind. Even as we write this, Cardinal Lofts in Ipswich has received a prohibition notice forcing residents to leave their homes. It’s clear that this crisis is far from over. Today’s update from Mr Gove may move us “one more step closer to at last resolving this issue” – but there are still many more steps to take before we are able to move on with our lives. We will continue our work with Mr Gove and his team at the Department to finally end this scandal.
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