by danielbarker on 29 April, 2021
Daisy Cooper (St Albans) (LD) – her speech in Parliament as recorded in Hansard
Nearly three years after the devastation of Grenfell Tower, I and the Liberal Democrats welcome the Fire Safety Bill as a first move in the right direction—but it is only a first move, because key aspects are not addressed. As currently drafted, tenants, leaseholders, local government and the fire service will take the weight of the new legislation. The recent building safety guidance for building owners, released by the Government in January, was foisted on the sector without any real regard for the expertise and training that would be required, and without any thought about how the changes were going to be paid for and by whom.
First, let us look at the scope of the Government’s cladding scheme. The Chancellor’s announcement in the March Budget of an additional £1 billion to replace dangerous cladding was welcome, but it does not cover a whole host of further measures that buildings need to take to ensure compliance. Fire safety assessments, the replacement of fire doors, installing smoke detector systems—these are just some of the major expenses that fall outside the Government’s scheme.
Secondly, there are the financial pressures on leaseholders. The Government’s Bill today has put the onus of fire safety on the building owner, but it does not say enough about who should be taking the financial burden. In my constituency of St Albans, one residents association has been told that it will be up to individual leaseholders to face the extra charges of about £20,000 per flat for this remedial work. Some service charges have increased sixfold since the tragedy of 2017 in preparation for the necessary works. I hope that the Government will agree that hitting individuals with a bill of £20,000 at any time, but particularly now, is completely unacceptable. More needs to be done to protect them from being financially crippled.
The third issue is about fire assessments, and specifically the EWS1 survey, which seems to have brought many flat purchases to a grinding halt. Most mortgage companies now seem to require an EWS1 certificate before lending, but feedback from my constituents, their management agencies and the local authority indicates that there is a very severe shortage of professionals around the country who are insured to sign off on this new survey.
My constituents have told me of 12 to 18-month delays, where they have to put their lives on hold and are left in constant fear of living in a dangerous home. Hon. Members will of course understand the impact that a 12 to 18-month delay will have on a pregnant constituent of mine who is looking for a suitable home for her growing family, or on the pensioner living in my constituency who is relying on the sale of their property to support them in retirement. Again, this is all the more urgent for those who find themselves and their jobs in a precarious situation as a result of coronavirus.
Finally, in line with the Hackitt review, these risk assessments should not only be held by building owners, but kept centrally with a public body, such as a Government-appointed regulator or a local council.
I am asking the Government to respond to these issues as a matter of urgency. We need to ensure that the EWS1 surveys are expedited. We need to have clarity for the industry about whether existing fire safety assessments may still be valid. We need to ensure that there are enough fire safety engineers— professionals—who can implement these changes and are insured to do so. Crucially, we need the Government to say what resources will be made available so that leaseholders are not faced with crippling fees. As a House, we have a responsibility to ensure that when we say an event like Grenfell will not happen again, they are not just words. We need to see far more action.
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