Michael Gove – 2023 Statement on Building Safety

The statement made by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, on 14 March 2023.

With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to update the House on the progress the Government have made in securing commitments from developers to remediate properties with building safety defects. Last year, the major house builders signed a pledge to fix all the medium or high-rise buildings that they had built or refurbished that were unsafe. The developers also promised to reimburse the taxpayer for work already undertaken at Government expense.

This Parliament has always been clear that those with ultimate responsibility for those buildings should bear the cost of remediation. Innocent leaseholders, who are neither responsible for safety defects nor equipped with the resources to fix the problem, should not be on the hook. Those who are responsible must pay. We have worked with developers to draw up a contract that gives direct effect to the pledge that they made. I was and remain grateful to those developers who have been so keen to live up to those obligations, and I am particularly grateful to Stewart Baseley of the Home Builders Federation for his skilful work in supporting the commitments made.

We published the legal contract on 30 January this year, and I gave an initial cohort of developers six weeks to confirm that they accepted the list of buildings for which they take responsibility and then to sign the contract. That deadline expired yesterday. I can confirm that 39 developers have signed the contract. We have published a list of those developers on gov.uk and hard copies of the list have been shared with the Vote Office. By signing the contracts, those developers have committed to fixing at least 1,100 buildings. They will invest more than £2 billion in that work—money saved for the taxpayer and invested in giving leaseholders a brighter future. I thank those developers for their hard work and co-operation in helping us to right the wrongs of the past. They are making significant financial commitments and I am grateful to them.

Leaseholders who have been waiting for work to be done to make their building safe will quite rightly want that work to start without delay. I know that those responsible developers who have signed the contract understand that expectation and will be in touch with leaseholders to set out the programme of expected works as soon as possible. I take the opportunity once again to apologise to those leaseholders and others who have waited so long for this work to be done. While there is still much to do, I hope today shows that their campaigning and that of so many hon. Members has not been in vain. While the overwhelming majority of major developers have signed, some regrettably have not. Parliament has made clear what that means, and so have I. Those companies will be out of the house building business in England entirely unless and until they change their course. Next week I will publish key features of our new responsible actors scheme, a means of ensuring that only those committed to building safety will be allowed to build in future.

Those developers who have been invited to sign the remediation contract, but who have not agreed to live up to their responsibilities, will not be eligible to join the responsible actors scheme. They will not be able to commence new developments in England or receive building control approval for work already under way. The House should note that the companies invited to sign the remediation contract who have not yet lived up to their responsibilities are Abbey Developments, Avant, Ballymore, Dandara, Emerson Group (Jones Homes), Galliard Homes, Inland Homes, Lendlease, London Square, Rydon Homes and Telford Homes.

While my officials remain in discussions with several who are making progress towards signing, I am concerned that some companies do not appreciate the grave nature of the responsibility they bear. I hope the directors of those firms will now exercise the same level of responsibility as the leaders of the building industry. The reluctance so far of some companies to sign up only underlines the need for the responsible actors scheme. It will ensure that there are consequences for developers who wish to be, at the moment, neither answerable nor accountable.

I will take other steps to ensure that companies live up to their responsibilities. I will be writing to major investors in those firms to explain the commercial implications of their directors’ current decisions. I will write to local authorities and building inspectors to explain that those developers’ projects may not be started or signed off. I will notify public bodies to be prepared to reopen tender award processes or rerun competitions. House buyers will want to know what that means for them, and we will formally set out the risks involved in purchasing homes from companies that have chosen to ignore the prospect of prohibitions.

I accept that the course of action that I have set out today is a significant intervention in the market for any Government, but the magnitude of the crisis that we faced and the depth of the suffering for all those affected clearly justified a radical approach. To their credit, the leaders of the development industry have willingly accepted the need for action. The vast majority of developers, as we should all appreciate, have made undertakings to the British public to put right the wrongs of the past. I am glad we can now work together with leaders in the industry on making sure that we deliver more safe, affordable, decent homes for the country.

As those developers have rightly argued, we in Government will also do more to pursue freeholders who have yet to live up to their responsibilities and construction product manufacturers, who also bear heavy responsibility for unsafe buildings. I will have more to say on that in the days and weeks to come. For the many thousands of people whose lives have been blighted by the failure properly to address building safety in the past, today’s update brings us one more step closer to at last resolving the issue, and for that reason I commend the statement to the House.