Social housing trade bodies give a guarded welcome to Gove’s building safety announcement

Representative bodies from across the housing sector have warmly welcomed the Government’s plans to sort out the cladding crisis, but they have universally asked for more details and highlighted concerns about the funding of other essential fire safety works and new social housing building.

The reaction of Rachael Williamson, the Chartered Institute of Housing’s head of policy and external affairs, to Michael Gove’s announcement on how building safety will be improved, was typical of many.

“While there are still elements of the building safety crisis not addressed by the announcement, it was a significant step forward and represents a clear policy shift from the Government.

“The overall principal is right – leaseholders shouldn’t be left with the bill for a system-wide failure and those responsible should cover the costs. Everyone should feel safe in their home and should know where to go if things go wrong.

“However, the debate highlighted issues which need further attention. How will developers be forced to pay up? What about leaseholders in buildings under 11m and those who’ve already paid out significant sums? What about liability for non-cladding costs? What analysis has been made of the impact on future house building and what does this mean for social housing?  And where does the social housing bill fit within all of this?”

She concluded with “The Government’s acknowledgement that more radical change is needed is welcome. But let’s make sure the cladding crisis doesn’t add to further pressure to the housing crisis – safety and supply should go hand in hand. Further assurance is needed on the detail to ensure clarity for leaseholders and the sector. We look forward to seeing it.

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, said:

“We welcome this important move from the Government to find a solution to the cost of dangerous cladding on buildings above 11m, and we agree that those responsible – developers, contractors and manufacturers – should make a major contribution to funding the remediation needed. Innocent leaseholders should not have to pay for building safety issues created by the big building firms.

“In the absence of funding, charitable housing associations have been left to pick up the bill. These not-for-profit organisations already estimate they will spend £10bn – over double the sum being talked about today – on remediating homes where social renters live, impacting their ability to build more social housing and improve existing properties.

“As ever when it comes to this crisis, speed, clarity and certainty are of the essence. We need urgent and decisive action to end the misery leaseholders are experiencing and ensure people are safe in their homes. We look forward to seeing more detail from the government and will continue to work with ministers to put an end to the cladding scandal”

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said:

“More than four years on from the horrors of Grenfell, many people are still trapped in dangerous homes. This announcement is a welcome step in the right direction. Developers played a part in this cladding scandal so it’s only right they help to fix it.

“The Government must act to make buildings safe as quickly as possible, but it must remember that safety and supply are both critical. As MPs including the former Conservative housing secretary made clear, funding shouldn’t come from the social housing budget. Right now, 126,000 children are homeless in England and many are waiting for a social home. The government and developers must get on with building the new social homes needed to fix the housing emergency once and for all.”

Members of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities select committee have also expressed concerns about the possible failure to reach agreement with developers. Its chair, Clive Betts said:

“We want to examine the risk to the department’s budget, particularly around social housing, if it is not able to secure sufficient funds from industry.”

By Patrick Mooney, Editor