Only around 100 applications to the Government’s £1 billion Building Safety Fund to remove dangerous cladding have proceeded to the next stage, a minister has confirmed.
Housing minister Chris Pincher told MPs that while 2,704 applications have been received, a significant number were “not sufficiently fulsome to allow an immediate assessment” resulting in just over 100 being given the green light to progress.
The announcement came as Mr Pincher also warned the Government “cannot write an open cheque” to prevent all leaseholders from having to pay some of the costs of removing unsafe cladding from buildings.
The Government said its Building Safety Fund, which was announced on May 26 2020, would fund the removal and replacement of unsafe non-ACM cladding systems on high-rise residential buildings.
MPs from all parties urged the Government to “get a full grip” of the issue and to “make buildings safe with the greatest sense of urgency”.
Responding to Labour’s Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish), Mr Pincher said: “I can tell (Mr Gwynne) that 2,704 applications were received.
“A significant number of them, I regret to tell the House, were not sufficiently fulsome to allow an immediate assessment – but over 100 of them have been assessed successfully to move on to the next stage.”
Conservative Father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) called on the Government to “get a full grip”, warning the issue would leave a “frozen part of the housing market”.
He said: “It’s the leaseholder tenants who’ve been lumbered with unimaginable anxiety and costs beyond possible chance of paying, and until we get a full grip not just on the very high buildings and not just on the aluminium cladding, but on all the problems, including the developers who use wood for balconies in ways which were against the housebuilders’ regulations, we’re going to be left with a frozen part of the housing market in every single one of our constituencies in this country.”
Mr Pincher replied: “We do not want leaseholders to carry the burden of these costs.”
Meanwhile, shadow housing minister Mike Amesbury urged the Government to “step up and step in to make buildings safe with the greatest sense of urgency”.
He said: “Hundreds of thousands of leaseholders that are now trapped in this living nightmare, left to foot the costs of a broken building safety system that they did not create.
“That well over three years on from Grenfell, when 72 people lost their lives, the Government needs to step up and step in to make buildings safe with the greatest sense of urgency.”
Mr Pincher said the taxpayer was spending £1.6 billion to help remediate buildings most at risk where the owners are unable to pay.
The Housing minister was also asked by Conservative MP Felicity Buchan, whose Kensington constituency witnessed the Grenfell tragedy, for an assurance that MPs “will not be having the same conversation in six or twelve months’ time”.
He replied: “The £700,000 of public money that we are putting aside to support the training of assessors will deliver something like 2,000 assessors, clearly qualified assessors, who will be able to undertake the assessment work over the next 12 months.
“I trust that will also be a means by which we will not be having this conversation again any time in the future.”
Conservative former minister Liam Fox warned that the taxes of working families “should not be used to absolve developers, insurers and owners from their proper responsibilities”.
And fellow Conservative MP Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) added that it is “inexcusable” that many building owners are still trying to “pass the buck” to leaseholders.
Introducing his urgent question on the issue, Clive Betts, Labour chairman of the Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, said leaseholders face a “very miserable Christmas” if the Government does not agree to cover the costs of remedial works.
He told the Commons: “The select committee heard that to make all high-rise buildings totally safe and remove all defects the total bill could be as high as £15 billion, and leaseholders should not have to pay that.”
But Mr Pincher replied: “I cannot say that there will not be some costs at some point related to some defect in historic building safety that will not fall upon the leaseholder.
“But we want to make sure through the public money that we are spending and also through the work of (Government expert) Michael Wade that we find innovative solutions to make sure that such costs as minimal as possible.
“Because we cannot write an open cheque on behalf of the taxpayer, that would send the wrong signal to developers and those who are responsible for these buildings.”