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Gove praised for cladding plan, but Government “urged to go further”

18 January 2022

THE BUILDING Engineering Services Association (BESA) has praised Michael Gove (Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing) for “taking the initiative” in trying to address the growing cladding scandal, but also warns that the Government’s new plan for ramping up building safety “would not completely solve the problem”.

Gove has warned developers that they must address fire safety issues in buildings between 11 and 18 metres in height – usually between four and seven storeys – or otherwise face legal action. Currently, only buildings above 18 metres tall qualify for Government support to rectify historic cladding defects.

Companies who make profits of more than £10 million per annum from housebuilding have until March to agree voluntarily to Gove’s proposals or face being forced to “shoulder their responsibilities” for the estimated £4 billion bill. Gove has said that he could restrict their access to Government funding and future projects, amend planning rules, use the tax system to penalise them and/or take them to court.

In addition, Gove has extended the period during which leaseholders can sue builders for defects from six to 30 years after completion.

Must go further

However, BESA has suggested that the Government will “have to go further” given that potentially unsafe cladding is only one part of the fire safety problem.

“Michael Gove deserves credit for trying to tackle this extremely complex issue and put right a serious injustice,” said Graeme Fox, BESA’s head of technical. “However, in many cases fire safety problems go well beyond cladding. Many buildings also have defective or missing fire breaks, unsafe insulation, lack adequate smoke ventilation and use other flammable materials. Who will pay to fix those problems?”

Shared responsibility

Fox has also stated it’s important the Government doesn’t serve to create another unfairness by piling all of the blame and cost for the present scenario on to builders and contractors.

“The Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry has shone a spotlight on shoddy workmanship, but it has also uncovered considerable problems with the way in which some building materials are tested and marketed. Most contractors buy or specify products in good faith having been presented with what should be compelling evidence that they comply with building regulations and are safe.”

Fox concluded: “All parts of the supply chain have to learn from this scandal, and the responsibility needs to be properly shared. Only then can we start to fix the ‘culture’ that led to this problem in the first place.”

Reaction from the RIBA

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has also reacted to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ new plan to fund the remediation of dangerous cladding and building safety failings.

RIBA president Simon Allford stated: “This new plan should provide some welcome relief to the many homeowners who have unduly suffered at the hands of our flawed building safety regime. We welcome that. We remain concerned, however, that the new funding mechanism will not raise enough money to fully address the widespread fire safety or structural defects that exist up and down the country. The extension of the Defective Premises Act will also seriously impact the availability of insurance for the entire construction sector, affecting not only architects who are needed to help design remedial works, but also others who have never worked on high-rise housing projects.”

Allford went on to comment: “While the new collaborative procurement guidance signals progress, that too will require much stronger Government oversight to prove effective. Despite awareness of the risks, too many construction projects confuse cost, value and safety.”

In conclusion, Allford observed: “To help the construction sector to move forward, the Government must, by being accepting of its role as the regulator that allowed this crisis to arise, devise and enforce a properly funded and sustainable solution.”

RICS statement

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) welcomes the Secretary of State’s announcement to Parliament on building safety and his commitment to delivering a solution which will protect many thousands of leaseholders from the cost of removing unsafe cladding.

In a statement on its website, the organisation notes: “While this solution will not cover all historic fire safety defects, we believe these steps could go a substantial way towards freeing thousands of leaseholders from concern about the safety of their homes and the possible cost of remediating dangerous cladding.”

The RICS is “encouraged” to see the Secretary of State proposing bold steps with the interests of leaseholders at their heart. “We will consider its impact on valuation practice carefully with stakeholders.”

As an organisation, the RICS has consistently taken a proportionate approach towards valuation guidance which is evidence-based and supported by all market participants. “The data, published by Government, demonstrates that this proportionate approach is working, with EWS-1 Forms being requested in a small (and decreasing) number of valuations. We will continue to work with valuers and lenders to ensure that a proportionate approach is being applied consistently in practice. The RICS’ Standards and Regulation Board will keep the guidance under review.” 

In conclusion, the organisation explains: “As acknowledged by the Secretary of State, we continue to work constructively with the Government and all stakeholders on solutions to this critical issue in the public interest. As such, we welcome the Government’s work to support professional indemnity insurance for those carrying out assessments and its continued funding of the RICS’ ongoing work to train more risk assessors.”