A UK senior minister has warned the homebuilding industry that he will use the legislation to impose a £4billion security plan unless leaders come up with alternative proposals within the next three weeks.
The 2017 fire at Grenfell Tower in west London, which killed 72, sparked a security crisis in Britain with concerns over hundreds of towers built with potentially combustible materials.
The urgency of the issues was underscored by a fire at a 21-storey office and residential building in Whitechapel, east London on Monday.
Michael Gove, who became leveling, housing and communities secretary last fall, has taken a tough stance with the housing construction industry, threatening to cut companies’ access to public funds and future purchases if they do not face the renovation costs.
The Home Builders Federation, which represents British builders, last month proposed a compromise under which the industry would fund the remediation of buildings dating back to 2000.
Under the proposal, developers would only repair their own buildings, excluding those built by foreign companies, and would only pay for work to address “critical fire safety issues” rather than other repairs.
Industry privately estimates it would cost around £1billion, in contrast to the government’s £4billion figure.
But in its latest letter to industry, published on Monday, Gove said industry supply “falls short of [the] complete and unconditional self-remediation” that tenants would expect.
The minister wants industry to take responsibility for repairs to buildings dating back to 1992, including those built by domestic and foreign builders.
“I expect all developers to emulate the most responsible companies and commit to full self-remediation of unsafe buildings without additional conditions or qualifications,” he wrote. “I am disappointed to see that you have not offered a financing solution to cover the full unpaid costs to remedy the unsafe coating of the buildings [of height] 11-18 meters.
Gove has warned the industry that unless a deal is reached by the end of March it will use the upcoming building safety bill to “force a solution into law”.
Robert Jenrick, Gove’s predecessor as housing secretary, allocated £5bn to repair buildings over 18m and had suggested that tenants of properties between 11 and 18m could take out loans to cover the remediation work needed on unsafe apartments. But Gove abandoned that plan and made it clear that tenants should not bear the costs of fixing fire safety issues.
The industry is already facing a new levy of £200m a year over the next decade to pay for the costs of resurfacing.
The HBF said in response to Gove’s letter that it wanted to engage constructively with the government to find solutions to ensure tenants do not have to pay repair costs. But he added: ‘Claims for funding the remediation of buildings constructed by foreign developers remain a concern and are clearly unfair.’
The trade group said it was still waiting to see the results of a recent government data collection exercise to establish what proportion of buildings in need of rehabilitation had been built by UK homebuilders over the past three decades. .
London Fire Brigade said 125 firefighters had been deployed to tackle the Whitechapel Tower blaze, which sent panes of glass shattering in the street below. No injuries were reported immediately as a result of the fire.
A tenant told the Financial Times that no one in the building had been able to sell properties because post-Grenfell checks had identified flammable materials in the balconies outside the building. “No one will mortgage these apartments,” she said.
She said there had been a confrontation between Network Homes, the housing association that runs the building, and tenants over the past few years over who would pay for the balconies to be sanitized.
Network Homes said it was the tenant of 75 apartments in the building and was pleased the building was safely evacuated.
“Overall responsibility for the building rests with the free owner, and we are actively engaging with their managing agent on fire safety measures,” he said.