Speaking in a House of Lords debate about building safety defects yesterday, Minister of State for Building Safety and Fire Lord Greenhalgh said: “I have always loved a magic bullet, but the reality is that the scale of the cladding and building sector crisis in Wales is a fraction of that in England. That is just a fact.”
He added: “We need to have a greater sense of proportion. We have made this a bigger scandal than it needs to be because too many buildings have been declared unsafe that are perfectly safe.
“Frankly, there is an industry profiteering on the back of this, and we need to do something about that. There needs to be a call for innovation to encourage mitigation, more often than not, rather than full-scale costly remediation; we need to make sure that there is an adequate, sensible, proportionate approach to this crisis.”
In December, the Welsh government announced plans to purchase properties from a small number of leaseholders who found themselves in “very significant financial hardship”. Full details for the scheme will be provided this year.
The Welsh minister for climate change Julie James said the scheme would provide an opportunity for leaseholders to sell up in a “limited number of cases” where they are unable to sell on the open market and are under significant financial hardship.
Cladding removal on social housing and polluter pays
Lord Greenhalgh also responded to questions about the “broken promise” of removing Grenfell-style cladding on social housing by 2019.
Baroness Garden of Frognal said the government had intended for housing to be removed by this deadline but pointed out that reports suggested the earliest this could be achieved was 2024.
Lord Greenhalgh said 95 per cent of buildings with aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding have been remediated and said this had been “accelerated at pace” since he had been Building Safety Minister.
He added that around 20 of these buildings were in the London Borough of Southwark and it had only been discovered in recent months that they had ACM cladding, which made remediation more challenging.
Lord Greenhalgh said: “This is tough, and we should not be trying to score points. We are absolutely committed to remediate these buildings, especially those with aluminium composite material, the most deadly form of cladding. Very shortly, we will have that removed from all buildings in this country.”
He added: “The reality is that we cannot keep looking to the Treasury to keep bailing everybody out—we have to get the polluter to pay.”
The government is considering a “Polluter Pays” amendment, which would allow the state to purse remediation and interim safety costs from responsible parties in the construction industry, including developers and builders.
Several Lords have voiced support for the scheme, including Lord Young of Cookham, the Bishop of London, Lord Shipley and Baroness Pinnock.
Low-rise buildings and cladding
Lord Greenhalgh was also asked about the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) statement which said EWS1 checks should not be scrapped for building under 18 metres as there were around 77,500 low-rise buildings that needed urgent fire remediation work at an estimated cost of £15bn.
He confirmed the number of low-rise buildings with cladding was accurate but said the properties which required remediation and mitigation was “very small”.
He added: “Frankly, the RICS seems to be more interested in how it can raise money for surveyors than being proportionate in terms of the approach towards this crisis.”