Shabana Mahmood MP Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Ladywood
Shabana has written to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government regarding the cladding scandal.
In a joint letter with Andy Street, West Midlands Mayor, Shabana raises several areas of concern where Government progress is lacking.
Recent announcements by the Secretary of State have been met with anger and disappointment from cladding groups.
Most recently, Shabana spoke in favour of Amendments to the Fire Safety Bill that would prevent leaseholders from incurring any costs for remediation works.
You can read the letter in full below.
Letter to the Secretary of State
We are writing in reference to the recent announcement of additional funding to remove unsafe cladding from affected developments above 18m, and for loans to remove unsafe cladding from buildings under that height.
Whilst we appreciate the complexities in addressing the cladding scandal and the substantial additional funding to remove unsafe cladding, we fear that this alone will fail to make buildings safe for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the majority of buildings with unsafe cladding have numerous other fire safety issues which are, in many cases, falling to the leaseholders to fund in order to move forward with remediation. It is common for those non-funded costs to be 40%+ of the overall remediation required, or tens of thousands of pounds. With many leaseholders being on help-to-buy schemes, first-time buyers, pensioners or those who have lost work due to the pandemic, in a significant number of cases, these funds cannot be found.
Secondly, the pace of administration of the funding is slow. With only a handful of buildings receiving full approval for funding to remove unsafe cladding (one of which is in Birmingham), and the fact that even that building cannot move forward with works due to a lack of funding for other fire safety issues, we fear that work will not be able to begin on many affected buildings for a long time. These bureaucratic hurdles are proving to be a problem and are preventing safety works from taking place. We would urge you to review the pace of the funding and the criteria that is used to determine who receives funding. The expectation that all other monies must be aligned before BSF funding is released is proving to be problematic.
Thirdly, as you will know, affected leaseholders are facing crippling interim costs. It is not unusual for developments to see their annual maintenance charges increase by 70%+ due to increases in insurance and waking watch costs (none of which make the buildings materially safer, and which also drain the resources of previously well run buildings.) These charges are so high that some leaseholders have been made bankrupt by those alone, with a significant number close to experiencing the same. We are seeking further action on the specific issue of funding for waking watch schemes. The existing fund is not working sufficiently well.
Fourthly, it remains the case that the risk of another catastrophic fire increases with every month that passes. Linked to this, there is concern amongst leaseholders in the West Midlands regarding the use of arbitrary height figures. It is worth mentioning that the fire at Richmond House (11m with missing fire breaks) worked its way through apartments in minutes. We would urge government to provide clarity over how we identify the risk of affected buildings, no matter the height or fire safety issue. At it stands, no one organisation is responsible for collating and holding this information, and information sharing is limited.
We know this year many more developments in the West Midlands will find out for the first time that they have significant and unsustainable increases in insurance, and many leaseholders will get first sight of the bills for tens of thousands of pounds they are currently expected to pay to remediate their buildings. We need more effective solutions from the insurance industry. The recent announcement from government is welcome, but in isolation it is insufficient to remedy these complex issues.
We stand ready to work with government to find a way through these matters and would be pleased to meet with you and officials to discuss these further.
Shabana Mahmood MP