Campaigners express horror over bill passing financial responsibility for £10bn of repairs on to leaseholders
Legislation which could see hundreds of thousands of leaseholders facing crippling fire safety bills of up to £100,000 has passed through Parliament after MPs voted against an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill.
Despite a significant rebellion of 32 Conservative MPs, the government defeated a Lords amendment to protect residents of buildings from the bills with the commons voting 322 to 256 this week.
The vote followed the latest in a series of attempts by the Lords to ensure leaseholders are not forced to foot the bill for the works, which include cladding remediation as part of costs that could run to £10bn.
Labour shadow police and fire services minister Sarah Jones told the commons that the prime minister and chancellor “do not care enough to act” and suggested that the government have been influenced by property and development donors.
She said that 14 separate companies and individuals with links to construction companies using ACM cladding have donated nearly £4m to the Conservative party since 2006, adding that housing minister Chris Pincher was having to “hold his nose and hold the line” with his support for the bill.
Campaign group End Our Cladding Scandal said the news had been greeted with “horror” by “hundreds of thousands of innocent people across the country whose lives are being ruined by the building safety crisis”.
But Pincher said that the amendment “lacked clarity” and would risk a return of the crisis over EWS1 forms.
He said all of the Lords’ attempts to amend the Bill would “simply reignite uncertainty in the market and risk lenders once again turning to leaseholders saying: ‘Computer says no: we can’t value your property’.”
He added that a new high-rise levy and developer tax would “make sure that the developers with the broadest shoulders pay their way”.
After the Commons defeat, the House of Lords finally gave way on the issue, meaning the Bill, designed to ensure building owners have responsibility for the fire safety of the external walls of buildings, has been approved and will shortly pass into law.
In February, the government announced a £3.5bn fund to pay for cladding remediation on buildings above 18m, taking the total committed to £5bn, but residents of buildings below this height have only been offered a loan scheme to pay for the works.
On Tuesday, the government launched a consultation on a new code of practice for professionals assessing buildings’ external walls and cladding system.
The government said the new code of practice, being drawn up by the BSI, was designed to “ensure external wall assessments are carried out to a high and consistent standard, giving building owners clarity on the fire risk of the construction of external walls”.
Building safety minister Lord Greenhalgh said: “I welcome the launch of this consultation on a new code of practice, commissioned by Government, which will ensure greater clarity and consistency for those completing assessments of external walls and a clear steer on where remediation is, or is not, required.”
The consultation is due to close next month, with the BSI aiming to publish the standard in the autumn, following review by an expert steering group.