While many of us close to this had advance sight of recent thinking by four experts, the content of the statement nevertheless still took almost everybody by surprise. The question though is it science-led, is it politically motivated or is it a combination of both perhaps?
Just when cladding appeared to be in a steady state since the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Guidance Note of April this year – accepting that some might disagree with its content – the ministerial statement also brought about a sense of déjà vu in the form of a statement which had the potential to significantly alter the market’s approach.
Which is to be welcomed but only if evidence exists to support it.
But we have been here before, RICS launched the EWS and then Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) issued its Consolidated Advice note within weeks.
In November last year, MHCLG announced buildings without cladding didn’t need the EWS. Interesting, given that the EWS has only ever been needed where a building had a wall system.
The question, however, is whether buildings below 18 metres are now safe and do not need value affecting works – as the ministerial announcement suggests.
Looking at the science
To answer this, we need to look at the science. There is a headline-grabbing programme where costs will be capped at £50 per month, but no further detail has emerged and a launch date has not been set.
There is also a multi-billion pound fund for above 18 metre buildings, but the amount is not enough and does not cover ancillary problems found when a wall system is removed.
The Consolidated Advice Note (CAN) will be withdrawn and replaced with PAS9980 but the CAN remains very much alive and well and PAS9980 does not declare sub 18 metre buildings free from defect. It does however provide a proportionate basis for assessment, so at least we have positive there.
Looking at the statement, we absolutely support finding a solution and would dearly like to move to a point where the EWS is made redundant. But can we marry the words with the science? I’m struggling and I suspect many are too.
No immediate resolve
Not unsurprising therefore that the recent statement made by housing secretary, Robert Jenrick which said EWS forms are not required below 18 metres is not exactly one that can be delivered.
Certainly not immediately.
Yes, we need a solution, but to get there we need coherent, well thought out advice, issued after consultation with the parties charged with its delivery, not statements which ignore the real problem.
Equally, the solution is not focussing on replacing the incumbent leaseholder with a new leaseholder; the original reason why we are here just simply remains.
We can’t ignore the known knowns. We know all buildings will be inspected once the Fire Safety Bill is enacted and unless the fire engineers agree that sub 18 metre buildings are defect-free, other parts of the market can’t ignore the fact that value affecting works are very likely to be required.
We need to get to a place that when works are recommended that they are proportionate to this risk. And the fire engineer bodies have a significant role to play here.
As ever, the devil is the detail and there is still a very big devil in the current detail. This statement has only added further confusion to an issue which requires handling with the greatest of care and sensitivity.
Words without substance hinder rather than help.
Getting to the root of the problem
We are keen to find a solution, but the solution has to work and get to the root cause of why a building is affected and what the costs will be, we need this to give professional condition and valuation advice
In a nutshell it is business as usual, but we urge government to accelerate withdrawal of the CAN and the introduction of the PAS.
We also continue to call on government to support the professional indemnity (PI) position. We are making this call through the various groups we sit on and will continue to support lenders to ensure policy remains reflective of the latest position.
Unfortunately, the need for a building to be checked below 18 metres will remain until such time as different government advice emerges.
Some might say valuers can drive this, but we value based on what we know. What we know is that flats with cladding require inspecting by a competent fire engineer to confirm either the wall system is free of flammable materials and has been assembled correctly or if not, what is needed and what will the cost be.
We can only hope that an appropriate solution and greater clarity emerges sooner rather than later for everyone connected to this building safety problem.
In the meantime, Countrywide Surveying Services will continue to support industry as it navigates this through its involvement with UK Finance, the Building Society Association and my role as chair of the RICS EWS Working Group.