Today I spoke in the debate on the Fire Safety Bill in support of the McPartland Smith Amendment to which I was an early signatory. This amendment was designed to protect leaseholders from unfair costs of rectifying the issue of unsafe insulation within their buildings. Unfortunately this amendment was not accepted and we didn’t have the opportunity to vote upon it. However the Minister did seem to be open to compromise though which was welcome.
I have previously welcomed the support that Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced. The £3.5 billion fund to remove unsafe cladding from buildings over 18m will benefit many of my constituents. This is on top of the already existing £1.6 billion Fire Safety Fund. My first surgery appointment after my election involved me meeting with St Francis Tower leaseholders and I’m glad that since that meeting there has been progress and they no longer have uncertainty hanging over them.
But I made it clear again today that, while this is a good start, this support doesn’t touch a number of my constituents affected by unsafe insulation. Many of those in Ipswich who have come to me since my election still have this uncertainty hanging over their lives which is unacceptable.
The Minister stated that the Building Safety Bill that will be brought forward shortly will be an opportunity for Government legislation to pick up on the issues raised by the amendment that I signed. I plan to work closely with Government to try and make sure this is the case.
I made a promise to my constituents that I would leave no leaseholder behind, yet sadly there are still a significant number of leaseholders who do feel left behind and this needs to be addressed. I’ve worked closely with Minister’s over the past couple of days to try and secure the assurances I need on behalf of my constituents but we’re not currently where we need to be which is why I was prepared to vote for the amendment today.
Opposition debate today on cladding. I was able to get in an intervention on the Housing Minister. I’ve been very active on this issue since I was first contacted by St Francis Tower leaseholders just over 1 year ago and continue to work closely with Ipswich Cladiators to ensure the concerns of Ipswich leaseholders are addressed.
I’m pleased that St Francis Tower leaseholders have secured support from the Building Safety Fund but there are a large number of my constituents in other buildings across Town who still have uncertainty hanging over them. In my intervention I asked about the £30 million “Waking Watch Relief Fund”. I’m pleased that my constituents will be able to bid in to the fund but I share many of their fears that the £30 million set aside will be insufficient to cover every leaseholder effected right across the country.
I am one of 34 Conservative MPs to have signed an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill that would make sure that leaseholders do not have to pay for the cost of remediation work to address fire safety issues in the buildings in which leaseholders live. This is a legally binding amendment to a Government Bill and if passed would have legal “teeth”.
Today I abstained on a non-binding opposition day motion calling for something very similar. I would encourage the opposition to back the legally binding amendment that I’ve signed. It is through backing this amendment that I believe real change will be delivered. The Government have stated that there are some technical issues with the amendment, if this is the case then I encourage the Government to work with the two Conservative MPs leading on this amendment to ensure that it works as intended and provides certainty to leaseholders asap.
It is morally wrong that leaseholders are being asked to pay for defects with the buildings in which they live when they have no responsibility for it whatsoever. I’m will continue to push for more clarity and action for leaseholders over the coming weeks.
This is an issue which affects a number of his constituents and about which Tom feels there a clear moral obligation to protect leaseholders who, through no fault of their own, have been put in danger and should not have to front the cost of rectifying safety defects.
His statement is below:
‘FIRE SAFETY BILL AMENDMENT: Along with around 10 other Conservative MPs I have signed an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill which would prevent leaseholders with being saddled with the costs of remediation works that need to take place to address fire safety issues relating to their building, more often than not to do with dangerous cladding (but not always). It should be either the freeholder or the builder who should pick up the tab for this not the leaseholder and I believe that the Government should provide certainty to leaseholders as soon as possible which is why I have signed this amendment.
As many of you will know, many Ipswich residents who are leaseholders have been impacted by this. St Francis Tower and Cardinal Lofts being two high profile examples but there are other examples across the Town, this is a big issue and it’s not going away. Recently the “Ipswich Cladiators” group was established to represent leaseholders and I attended their inaugural meeting. The leaseholder is in no way to blame for any fire safety defects and therefore its morally wrong in my view for them to often be saddled with eye watering bills, often this also means that the values of their homes have plummeted. Following a debate that I took part in shortly after getting elected the Government did establish a £1 billion “Building Safety Fund” to help address the costs but this isn’t enough.
I understand why the Government wants to have it out with freeholders and builders about who should ultimately meet the costs here, but it shouldn’t be the leaseholders who are caught in the middle. I hope that over the coming weeks the Government will listen to what we’re calling for and provide leaseholders with the reassurance they need.’
Used an urgent question in Parliament today to raise the huge costs being faced by leaseholders at Cardinal Lofts by the Waterfront as a result of the dangerous cladding on their building. I’ve been in close contact with residents of Cardinal Lofts who’ve written to me about how they’ve essentially had a note slipped under their door by the management company telling them they now have to pay almost £400 per month per flat for a waking watch because of the fire risk. This is unacceptable when they weren’t responsible for putting this dangerous cladding up. Clearly the bill should be being slipped under the door of those who are responsible.
This is a huge amount of money and understandably it’s left leaseholders with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over them. Especially as some I’ve spoken to have said their property price has already plummeted and many are under real financial pressure as it is because of Covid-19.
This is a fundamental issue of fairness and I’ve been raising the similar cladding issues affecting St Francis Tower in Parliament since soon after I was elected. But since then more and more buildings in Ipswich have had issues. And I called today on the Housing Minister to meet with me to discuss how we can provide residents at Cardinal Lofts with the certainty leaseholders need and deserve. The Government needs to look very closely at whether we can stop leaseholders being caught in limbo by providing the funding for cladding replacement up front, and pursuing the freeholders responsible for putting it up afterwards.
I’ve also been working with leaseholders at Cardinal Lofts to submit written questions asking the Government to look at direct support for leaseholders with the cost of waking watches and other interim fire safety measures. The Government’s £1 billion Fire Safety Fund does help with cladding replacement costs (although I think it should go further) but it doesn’t cover incidental costs like waking watches before the cladding is removed.
I have meetings scheduled this week with Cardinal Lofts’ management company where I will raise the impersonal way residents have been contacted about these bills they face. And after my question today I’ll also be meeting with the Housing Minister again. I also hope to meet directly some of the leaseholders at Cardinal Lofts who’ve written in to me very shortly.
Whether it’s meetings, questions in Parliament like today, written questions or sending letters directly to Ministers, I’ll use every tool at my disposal to make sure leaseholders don’t have this cloud of uncertainty hanging over them for any longer.