2 Baroness Featherstone debates involving the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities

Wed 2nd Feb 2022
Building Safety Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading

Elections: Multiple Voting

Baroness Featherstone Excerpts
Tuesday 14th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Tabled by
Baroness Featherstone Portrait Baroness Featherstone
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of the number of electors who vote more than once in an election because they are registered at two separate addresses.

Lord Razzall Portrait Lord Razzall (LD)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing on the Order Paper in the name of my noble friend Lady Featherstone.

Building Safety Bill

Baroness Featherstone Excerpts
Baroness Featherstone Portrait Baroness Featherstone (LD)
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My Lords, I too welcome the Bill. I say to the Minister opposite that if he takes on board all the wonderful knowledge, expertise and advice that has been offered to him today, he will have a sensational Bill.

Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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It would be a very long one.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Featherstone Portrait Baroness Featherstone (LD)
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That is okay, we have the time.

I want to illustrate a number of issues by bringing the actualité of one small block of 45 apartments in Guildford that was just completed in 2016. The block is not 18 metres tall, but it is facing a raft of costly issues to do with fire safety. The End our Cladding Scandal group highlighted these problems because, as it said,

“There may be more funding for cladding … but the burden of paying for repairs for other serious safety defects—lack of compartmentation, missing fire breaks, shoddy building work—has still not been lifted from leaseholder shoulders, whatever their building’s height.”


This Bill is such an opportunity to do the right thing.

Leaseholders and shared owners in this block have been aware since early on of several issues—snagging, I guess you would call them under normal circumstances —but then came the tragic and terrifying fire at Grenfell. Since then, there have been many concerns over the fire safety of these apartments. It is the case that Metis Homes wrote to confirm that the cladding material was not the dangerous type used on Grenfell. However, in late 2019, mortgage companies were requesting EWS1 forms—external wall system surveys—in order to grant loans against any property that had cladding. While the legal requirement was only for buildings over 18 metres high, which the block that we are talking about is not, none the less, those same mortgagees required EWS1 forms of the residents of this block. In June 2020, they were given a B2 rating—a fail—because although the cladding was fine, the fixing method and the insulation were not. Also noted were the lack of fire barriers—compartmentalisation—and the wooden balconies. It has been very difficult, nigh impossible, for residents to get clear, detailed information on any fire safety risks to the apartments. The builders, Metis, and John Lewis/Waitrose, which owns the retail space below the apartments, have all completed an invasive survey, but will not disclose the information to the residents. Can we not make access to such information mandatory?

The block of flats had its AGM last week. It is clear from the information provided to residents at that AGM that the fire safety issues for the apartments are extensive and the likely cost of remedial work is £5 million. The developer, Bowmer and Kirkland, is unwilling to accept liability, and therefore the cost of the works is likely to fall on the residents. However, as I said, the fire issues at the apartments relate to insulation and how it has been glued to the building, not the cladding; therefore, I do not believe they will be able to benefit from the remediation funds being made available as part of the Bill. Surely such defects should be covered, not just the cladding: a fault is a fault and danger is danger.

Residents were also informed this week that an enforcement notice has just been served by Surrey Fire and Rescue Service because not enough action has been taken by the management company and, as a result, alarms are going to be installed. Where is the cost to the management company for not taking appropriate action? Where is the forcing mechanism? There must be detriment to the management for lack of proper conduct.

To make matters worse—and this is a relatively small bill—the cheapest quote was £29,000, and that includes 2.5% of managers’ costs, and the residents have been advised that the cost will be split between private and social housing residents, with the former paying £600 and the latter £1,200. The housing association has said that it will cover the £1,200 but has given no assurance that it will not recharge it back to the shared ownership residents via rent or service charges. As a result of the uneven split in charges, there is real concern about how the £5 million remedial bill will be split. Even if the £5 million were split equally between the 45 apartments, that is £104,000 each, which is a massive sum that is likely to be unaffordable for the leaseholders, especially shared-ownership leaseholders, who, on average, paid £200,000 for a 50% share of their apartment and often used all their savings to do so.

In the Commons debate on the Bill, the problem of leaseholders facing other fire defects was raised and the Government were questioned on whether they would extend legal protections afforded by the Bill to them as well. The Minister replied:

“We will work with parties across this House—across both Houses—and with interested parties to ensure that these issues are properly understood and debated.”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/1/22; col. 381.]


I suggest to the Minister that understanding and debating are not enough: that will not change things. The Government must bring forward amendments—assuming they do not accept all of ours—attributing costs to those responsible. That has to be the way forward.

As far as I can tell, nothing in the Bill would address a plethora of other fire defects. More pertinently, some of these residents are terrified. They have already had a fire. How that fire started is unclear, but the automatic opening vents failed. It was only because a resident heard an alarm going off inside a neighbour’s flat and went to investigate that more damage was not done and lives were not lost.

Those residents—and no doubt thousands experiencing the same things across the country—urgently need legal protections within the Bill extended so that they are not left to foot crippling bills that should be paid by those responsible for the defects. The potential economic and human cost of not providing this protection is huge and totally unacceptable.