Queen’s Speech – Bishop of St Albans on planning, building safety and accessibility

On 17th May 2021 the Bishop of St Albans spoke in the third day of debates on the Queen’s Speech in the House of Lords, focusing on the continuing issues of leaseholders facing costs for replacing dangerous cladding, and the new planning Bill.

“My Lords, I too look forward to hearing the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse, but I want to start by congratulating the Minister on introducing the leasehold reform Bill.

“Ending ground rents—or, as one person called it recently, the serfdom charge—in new developments is an important and positive reform, and I will welcome this opportunity to be mostly congruent with the Minister, after been being on opposing sides of the Fire Safety Bill. While this is a great victory for future leaseholders, existing leaseholders, particularly those in developments affected by the building and fire safety scandal, nervously await their fate.

“During the previous parliamentary Session, those Members, including myself, who sought to amend the Fire Safety Bill to protect leaseholders were told that Her Majesty’s Government would address our concerns in the building safety Bill, which I was pleased to hear announced in the Queen’s Speech. There is an urgency to this crisis. Bills of debilitating proportion are already being handed to leaseholders, bankruptcies have occurred, and, tragically, so have related suicides. This is a financial and a mental health crisis that is growing worse every passing day that it is left unaddressed. I therefore urge Her Majesty’s Government to move with haste to bring forward their building safety Bill, so that we can finally provide leaseholders with peace of mind.

“Having said that, I want to get this Bill right. The pre-legislative scrutiny committee for the building safety Bill crucially raised the absence of any measures in the Bill to pursue developers for inadequate historic works. While ACM cladding was legal prior to 2019, there are now numerous documented cases where this was fitted not to regulations, without requisite firebreaks or adequate compartmentalisation measures. During this injustice, the six-year limitation preventing legal action is conspiring to force leaseholders into bankruptcy, rather than what the Government have always claimed that they want to do: to get those responsible to pay for remediation. I was grateful for the Minister’s assurances during debate on the Fire Safety Bill that Her Majesty’s Government were ‘committed to developing stronger avenues for redress’, and I hope to see this in the revised Bill. The £2 billion levy on developers is, frankly, derisory, particularly when they are essentially receiving £5 billion in subsidy to fix their own defective developments—a net taxpayer subsidy of £3 billion.

“I would like to see some strong action from this Government. Now that we are out of the EU, perhaps they could look at excluding developers who fail to remediate their own buildings from applying for public contracts. The Government should also look seriously at extending the forced loan scheme to include other historic, non-cladding related, fire safety defects, given that they were estimated by the Institute of Residential Property Management at between £26,000 and £38,000 per lease. These bills alone still have the propensity to bankrupt leaseholders.

“Finally, I turn to the proposed changes to planning laws. Too often, those with disabilities and their families struggle to find suitable homes and are forced into inaccessible and unsuitable homes. The latest figures from the housing association Habinteg found that, outside London, only 1.5% of homes planned over the next decade will be suitable for wheelchair users, despite the ageing demographic shift. Many leading housing associations have called for the mandatory baseline for all new homes to be raised to category 2—broadly the same as the lifetime home standard. I hope that the Government will move forward and publish their responses to the accessible homes consultation, so that parliamentarians know that they intend to make our housing stock more inclusive and prepare it for the challenges of the future.”

via Parliament.uk