Lisa Nandy – 2023 Speech on Building Safety

The speech made by Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Levelling Up Secretary, in the House of Commons on 14 March 2023.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. We want to see every developer sign the remediation contract and urgently move to fix the unsafe buildings and free leaseholders who have been trapped for too long. Throughout this process, we have supported steps to speed that up and provide support to leaseholders. In that spirit, I welcome the statement and I do not doubt the Secretary of State’s sincerity in dealing with this problem, nor the deeply held convictions on all sides of the House.

However, I fear that the collective will of this House to see that done is being damaged by what appears to be an increasingly dysfunctional approach from the Government. Last week the Secretary of State was on social media threatening major house builders with a nationwide ban if they failed to sign up to the contract within a matter of days. He is 100% right to say the developers should pay, but it undermines his case when his own Department had not even managed to send the contract to them.

That really matters, because until builders sign, leaseholder groups remain in limbo. They need more than tough talk; they need clarity and competence. For the 10 developers who signed the initial pledge but not the contract, which as the Secretary of State rightly says includes Galliard Homes, Ballymore and—shamefully, given its role in Grenfell—Rydon Homes, will he be using the powers at his disposal to designate the developers who cannot be granted planning permission? Crucially, can he tell us from when?

The Secretary of State is right to say this is a step forward, but there are many more steps to go. Leaseholders need not another deadline, but real action and hope on the horizon. Can he spell out exactly what this action will mean for developments that have already begun under those developers and that have already received planning consent? Will he be using the powers at his disposal to issue remediation orders to force them to fix their buildings in the meantime? Can he also tell us whether the 39 who have signed the contract will be obliged to fix all critical fire safety defects, as defined by the Building Safety Act 2022, and what will happen if they do not? There is a gap between the contract and the Act, and we need to make sure that the cost of that gap is not borne by leaseholders.

The contract, the Secretary of State says, will cover over 1,000 buildings. Given that his own Department has estimated that there are between 6,000 and 9,000 unsafe 11 to 18-metre buildings alone, it clearly only deals with a fraction of the problem. How does he plan to assist leaseholders in buildings with defects that are outside the scope of the contract in getting them remediated? Remediation remains painfully slow—something he knows and has rightly acknowledged—but the contract stipulates only that repairs and remediation must be carried out

“as soon as reasonably practicable”.

Again, I push him for hard timescales and deadlines.

On the issue of who is responsible, may I again ask the Secretary of State why British house builders are being asked to pay, while foreign developers and the companies that made the materials used in affected buildings are still not? That is a basic question of justice.

We should all be moving heaven and earth to right this wrong, yet the House of Lords Committee that scrutinised amendments to the Building Safety (Leaseholder Protections) (England) Regulations 2022 found that that instrument contained an unintentional drafting error that excluded parent and sister companies from being considered as associated with the landlord. That meant that landlords could avoid the £2 million net worth threshold above which they must not pass on to leaseholders costs for repairing historical defects. Despite that error as a result of a mistake at the Secretary of State’s Department, no compensation has been forthcoming for leaseholders who have had to pay remediation costs, and no plans are in place to alert those leaseholders to the possibility of applying to a tribunal to seek cost recovery. What is the Department doing to identify affected leaseholders and inform them that an appeal route to recover costs is available to them?

Finally, I say to the Secretary of State that there is, I think, cross-party agreement now that this is not the only issue for leaseholders. Leasehold is a feudal system that has no place in a modern society. It is time that we ended—abolished—the scandal of leasehold once and for all, and ended the misery for the far too many people who are trapped in that feudal system. Labour appreciates what he has done to move this desperate situation forward, but it remains in his gift to fix it once and for all, and we would fail in our duty if we did not take every opportunity to urge him to do so.

Michael Gove

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the thoughtful and detailed way in which she has responded to the announcement, and for the support from her and colleagues across the House for the work that we have undertaken.

The hon. Lady asks about contracts and the speed with which they have been signed. Again, just to inform her and the House, we ensured that developers were given a copy of the contract on 30 January, when it was published. A final version was sent to developers with minor alterations on 21 February. The execution version of the contract depended on the developers themselves providing the Department with a list of affected buildings, so it was the work of developers, not of the Department, that led to the late signing of contracts, but I am grateful to all who have now signed.

The hon. Lady asks about the responsible actors scheme, when it will be implemented and the effect it will have. We will lay details of the responsible actors scheme next week. I want to allow some of the 11 who have not yet signed a little leeway to ensure that they live up to their responsibilities. The letters that I have written to the directors of the companies concerned will, I think, help to concentrate their minds to ensure that they have a chance to sign before we lay the responsible actors scheme details next week.

The hon. Lady asks if the powers in the 2022 Act will be used for those who will not have signed by that time. They absolutely will. She asks if we will fix all critical features. All life-critical features in medium and high-rise buildings will be addressed by developers. It is the case that with buildings under 11 metres, there are some fire safety issues, but we have to look at them case by case—some will be life-critical; some will not. Our cladding safety scheme, which addresses mid-rise buildings specifically—those between 11 and 18 metres—should, I hope, deal with the delay, which she rightly points out, in dealing with the fire safety issue for that crucial section of our housing sector.

The hon. Lady makes the point about foreign developers and the need to tackle them, and I quite agree with her. It is important that we use all the tools in our power, and we are exploring sanctions, criminal options and others. The one thing that I would say is that there is one jurisdiction—not a foreign jurisdiction but an adjacent one—where action has not been taken to deal with some of those responsible, and that, of course, is Wales. I ask her to work with me to ensure that the Welsh Labour Government take appropriate steps to deal with the situation in Wales. We stand ready to work with them and with all parties in that regard.

The hon. Lady also asks about the need to abolish the invidious and feudal system of leasehold. As someone who was born in Scotland—mercifully, a country free from that system—I can say only that this is one area where I hope that England at last catches up with one part of the United Kingdom that is, in that respect at least, more progressive.