James Talman, CEO of NFRC, says whilst NFRC agrees that leaseholders shouldn’t have to pay cladding remediation costs themselves, the association does not accept that the entire industry should pay for the mistakes of a handful of companies. Below he looks at Michael Gove’s plans and explains what the NFRC is pushing for…
Say what you like about Michael Gove, the current Secretary of State for Levelling Up, but one thing is for sure – he is not afraid to tackle difficult problems. At the Department for Education, he famously took on the unions to introduce academies and free schools; during the Brexit transition he was given the job of preparing for a ‘No-deal Brexit’; and now he’s on a mission to find a resolution to the ‘cladding crisis’.
Under his predecessor Robert Jenrick, there was a general consensus between industry and government on the way forward with regards to building safety. After the Building a Safer Future Review led by Dame Judith Hackitt and the government consultation that followed, the Building Safety Bill was published and had started to work its way through both the House of Commons and Lords.
Barring a few left-field amendments from MPs and Peers it looked likely this bill, as it was in draft form, was going to become law. Then after a Cabinet reshuffle in September 2021, Michael Gove became the Secretary of State and made it clear that he wants a ‘reset’ on the government’s approach to building safety. He then subsequently tabled over 120 amendments to the Building Safety Bill, radically changing its scope and impact in a number of areas.
One such amendment was to extend the Defective Premises Act 1972 to go back 30 years, from the current six. This would cover structural and fire safety defects in any residential buildings. This change was introduced without any formal consultation with industry and came after the Building Safety Bill had already passed through the House of Commons and most of the Lords.
Alongside this, Gove has changed the government’s position on the funding of remediation work on buildings with defective ACM cladding between 11 and 18m. Previously, the government agreed to fund the £5.2 billion needed to remediate buildings above 18m but leaseholders who needed cladding to be remediated on buildings below 18m had to take out a loan to pay for this. Gove has said that this is not acceptable and instead industry should pay.
He asked developers and construction product manufacturers to contribute to a £4bn fund to pay for remediation work. He has said if a funding arrangement isn’t forthcoming by the end of March 2022, he would take it upon himself to raise the funds from the industry, probably through some sort of levy. At the time of writing, no funding proposal has been agreed between industry and government.
Whilst we agree that leaseholders shouldn’t have to pay these costs themselves, we do not accept that the entire industry should pay for the mistakes of a handful of companies, many of whom are no longer even based in the UK. Why should a slating and tiling or flat roofing contractor have to pay towards the remediation costs of ACM cladding on a 16m tower block? Instead, we have called on the government to tell the industry which buildings need remediating, and who the relevant manufacturers and developers involved are.
Those parties identified by the government should then be invited to contribute towards the cost of remediation. The contractor and sub-contractors should only be involved when it can be demonstrated that there was poor workmanship or incorrect product substitution. We believe this would be a much fairer and proportionate approach.
As for those businesses no longer trading in the UK, that does not prevent the government from stopping all trading activities where these organisations might operate in non-construction markets in the UK, and to applying pressure through, say, sanctions on the rest.
What Gove will decide to do remains to be seen, but our focus remains on the future – working with the wider industry to ensure that a tragedy like Grenfell never happens again. This means ensuring a competent and skilled workforce, quality and safe products with transparent and accurate marketing, and ultimately a change in the culture of the industry.