Another change of stance by the Government on cladding

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The news is awash today with talk of yesterday’s comments to the Select Committee by Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling up, Housing and Communities.

The headline items are as follows:

  • Buildings under 18 metres will be removed from the EWS1 requirement by Christmas – this will be welcome news to many leaseholders and should in theory open the way for mortgaging and therefore release the deadlock many leaseholders have found themselves in. It doesn’t, however, force insurers and mortgagors to change their processes, so it remains to be seen whether this is going to make a practical difference on the ground
  • Waking watches were branded a rip off – and it is difficult to argue with this when the charges for the 24 hour patrols insisted on by Fire & Rescue Authorities are often eye watering 
  • The loan fund to help leaseholders pay for cladding to be replaced has been “paused” because in a change of heart from his predecessor, Michael Gove does not think leaseholders should foot the bill at all when there are “guilty men and women” in business who were responsible for the mess in the first place or who are profiteering from the remediation need. Those who have been watching the Covid PPE and peerage procurement scandals unfolding may consider this more than just a tad hypocritical but it makes good rhetoric when you are looking down the barrel of a Public Inquiry and by-elections of course

Arguably the most interesting points emanating from Gove’s announcement yesterday are those which reference the Grenfell Public Inquiry and who was to blame for Grenfell in the first place. As we move to the Public Inquiry phase where the role of the Government and Minsters in the years leading up to 2016 comes under scrutiny, one wonders if the penny has finally dropped that a significant degree of blame is coming their way in the next few months and this is cynically the advance defence to enable the Government to say “don’t worry, the Inquiry is only telling us what we already concluded and we have already taken steps ...”.

The comments which reference who should pay for cladding to be replaced, are interesting because the Government has yo-yoed on this for the last 5 years and Gove’s predecessor had pragmatically had to leave it to leaseholders where there was no current legal obligation on anyone else and this is what led to the leaseholder loan fund in the first place.  Michael Gove has paused that fund and is now looking for a situation akin to the “polluter pays” principle but it remains difficult to see how this can be achieved retrospectively. His predecessors have tried and failed. The law gives no mechanism to retrospectively create liability. Is Gove really going to introduce retrospective legislation or is it another bit of rhetoric for the voters ahead of some important by-elections and ahead of the tricky bit of the Public Inquiry that will fizzle into hot air when the dust settles?

Every major news outlet is running the story today and leading with a feel good factor for leaseholders so at least for the time being, we can safely deduce that the Government press machine is firmly focussed on placating voters!

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