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Opinion

The Building Safety Bill is clearly unjust if it can’t protect leaseholders

Labour will not oppose the Building Safety Bill at its second reading, writes shadow housing secretary Lucy Powell, but will launch a cross-party amendment to protect leaseholders from paying to fix their homes

Lives put on hold, life savings gone, dreams of having children put off, marriage break ups, mental health breakdowns, retirements wasted, and dreams of getting on and getting up the housing ladder dashed. These are just some of the stories you hear when you speak to people trapped in the building safety scandal which has wreaked havoc with the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of residents around the country.

In the four years since the Grenfell tragedy, what started with horrific scenes at a tower in Kensington has become a total breakdown in confidence in tall buildings.

Everybody from insurers, to mortgage lenders, risk assessors and others, is concerned about their liability, leaving thousands of buildings with an ever-growing list of remediation works, some of which are potentially life threatening, but others are a symptom of this crisis in confidence.

Rather than getting a grip on risk, the government has made the situation worse through disastrous guidance and a total lack of leadership.

Whilst they have set aside a pot of money, they seem to have their heads in the sand about the wider issues, leaving leaseholders and other tenants in this living nightmare.

There are two tasks ahead: first put in place a new regulatory system, so that new homes are built to a higher standard and the mistakes that led to flammable cladding being installed on Grenfell Tower are not repeated. Second, provide a way out for those already trapped in the building safety crisis.

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The Building Safety Bill, which has its first major airing in the House of Commons on Wednesday, addresses some of the first issue of regulations, but utterly fails to deal with the second.

It is clearly unjust that leaseholders, who have done the right thing and bought a home they were told was safe, should be forced to pay to fix problems they did not cause.

Rather than the current bill, which cements the status quo and lands costs with leaseholders, we need cast-iron legal protection that fulfil the government’s promise to protect leaseholders, and I will be working cross-party amendment to the Building Safety Bill.

On top of this, Labour has called for a Building Works Agency, to get a grip of the extent of this crisis and bring down spiralling costs. This crack-team of building safety experts should go block by block, identifying which works need doing, fix, fund and crucially certify them as safe and sellable at the end, to allow leaseholders to finally move on with their lives.

Nobody, least of all the victims of this scandal, is served by politicians turning building safety into a political football.

There are some good things in the bill, which sit above party politics and have come through the independent review into building regulations, which is why we won’t oppose it at second reading, but the government should be in no doubt that there will be a battle royale over the omissions and broken promises that this bill will protect leaseholders.

Lucy Powell is Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Housing

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