Act now on cladding crisis to “save lives and livelihoods”, Labour tells ministers

Elliot Chappell
© Ian Vogler

Labour has called on the government to “act now to save lives and livelihoods” by setting a hard deadline for developers to remove unsafe and combustible cladding and carry out all remediation work to make buildings safe.

Following a fire in London, involving a building that has Grenfell-style cladding and combustible balconies, the party has tabled an amendment to the Queen’s Speech ahead of a parliamentary debate on affordable and safe housing on Tuesday.

The amendment calls for a legally enforceable deadline of June 2022 for developers to make all homes safe, and for the government to protect leaseholders from remediation costs by pursuing those responsible for the unsafe materials.

Labour is also urging ministers to set up a national cladding taskforce to “get a grip of this crisis”, ensure that affected residents can sell and re-mortgage their properties and stamp out rogue builders by reforming the sector.

In her first speech to parliament in her new role as Shadow Housing Secretary, Lucy Powell is expected to argue that the failure of ministers to act on cladding shows they are putting the interests of their developer donors over homeowners.

Commenting on the cladding crisis this morning, Powell said: “This is the biggest building scandal in modern history, and instead of decisive leadership to solve it, government delays are putting lives at risk. The Conservative Party is putting the interests of their developer donors over innocent homeowners.

“Ministers have failed to meet targets to assess unsafe buildings and remove cladding, and broken promises that residents will not pay the costs of those responsible for the building safety scandal.

“The government must step up and end the waking nightmare for millions of residents trapped in unsafe, unsellable homes. Through no fault of their own, leaseholders’ lives are on hold, faced with crippling costs, with the fear of fire a real and present danger for many.”

MPs will consider Labour’s amendment on Tuesday during debate of the Queen’s Speech. The monarch’s address, made last week, is written by ministers and sets out the legislative agenda of the government for the next parliamentary session.

Labour has repeatedly called for the government to set a deadline for cladding remediation work. Earlier this year, the Commons passed an opposition day motion, as Conservative MPs abstained, put forward by the party.

Opposition day motions are not binding on the government. Boris Johnson has started to ignore the votes in the same way Theresa May did during her time as Prime Minister, though Johnson has a majority of 80 in the Commons.

Keir Starmer highlighted the cladding crisis in his response to the Queen’s Speech in parliament last week. The Labour leader told Johnson that he would have “guaranteed cross-party support” to tackle the problem.

“The Grenfell tragedy was four years and three Queen’s Speeches ago, yet thousands of people are trapped in unsafe buildings, and hundreds of thousands of leaseholders are caught up in homes they cannot sell or afford,” he said.

“People are facing bankruptcy and great anxiety. If anybody needed any reminder of the danger of this, they should look no further than the fire in East London last week. There is no excuse for the Prime Minister’s inaction on cladding.”

Leaseholders in the New Providence Wharf, which caught fire on May 7th, had warned developer Ballymore more than two years ago about the danger of smoke spread in the tower block and reported that fire wardens were ineffective.

The 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people, and the following inquiry exposed deficiencies in the building safety regime and the potential abuse of safety tests by companies supplying cladding and insulation across the UK.

Laws and regulations introduced to ensure that dangerous cladding is identified and removed have instead left many homes unsellable, with leaseholders being forced to pay tens of thousands of pounds to fix the issues.

According to Labour analysis of figures from the New Build Database, a national record of issues that affect homeowners, as many as 4.6 million properties home to 11 million residents could be affected by the cladding crisis.

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