Labour Party leader Keir Starmer has set out a series of demands to tackle the cladding scandal, as new figures from Labour suggest up to 11 million people are at risk from life changing cladding costs and unsellable properties.
Ahead of a crunch vote in Parliament, the Labour leader has called for a new National Cladding Taskforce, modelled on the successful approach taken in Australia, to get a grip on the deepening cladding crisis and protect leaseholders from bearing the cost.
As analysis shows one in six UK homes are now at risk from the cladding scandal, Starmer also set out a comprehensive set of policy demands to kickstart action from the UK government. He argued that today must be a “turning point” for the crisis.
The intervention came ahead of a visit by the Labour leader in South East London, where he met with leaseholders living in blocks with dangerous cladding. After ministers promised 15 times to protect leaseholders, Labour is urging Conservative MPs to support its motion to ensure costs are not passed on to residents and those responsible for the cladding scandal are pursued.
The National Cladding Taskforce would drive forward Labour’s six demands for safer homes, which include:
- Immediate up-front funding for removing deadly cladding and other urgent fire safety work;
- Protecting leaseholders and taxpayers by pursuing those responsible for the cladding scandal for costs;
- A new, legally enforceable 2022 deadline to make homes safe;
- Legislation to protect residents from costs;
- Getting the market moving by ensuring affected residents can sell and re-mortgage;
- Stamping out rogue builders by reforming the sector.
Labour is calling for a National Cladding Taskforce to drive this work after years of delays and what they describe as ineffective measures from the government. The taskforce would be given strong powers to establish the full extent of dangerous materials on buildings, prioritise them according to risk and ensure there is enforcement against those who refuse to undertake works.
Labour’s analysis of figures from the New Build Database and the ONS suggests the cladding scandal could be even larger than previously thought, affecting as many as 11 million people. The New Build Database estimates the scandal may affect up to 4.6 million properties, with an average of 2.4 residents per property. Data also shows the scandal risks freezing the entire market for flats, after sales halved compared to last year.
Starmer said: “Today needs to be a turning point for those affected by the cladding scandal. Millions of people have been sucked into this crisis due to years of dither, delay and half-baked solutions from the government. For many leaseholders, the dream of home ownership has become a nightmare. They feel abandoned, locked down in flammable homes and facing ruinous costs for repair work and interim safety measures.
“I urge Conservative MPs to vote with us in Parliament today and put their constituents’ safety and security first. And I urge the government to get a grip of this crisis through a national taskforce and by implementing Labour’s six demands.”
Shadow housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire said the situation was “extraordinary”. She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Nearly four years on from the Grenfell fire tragedy, in which 72 people lost their lives, there are still hundreds of thousands of people across the country in a situation where they’ve got either dangerous cladding or other fire risks and are being faced with huge charges, skyrocketing insurance, and it’s almost impossible to sell their homes.
“There are models around the world of how to do that recouping of cost,” Debbonaire said. “If you bought a car and it was found to be dangerous, you wouldn’t be expected to take out a loan to mend it. And this is people’s homes.”
Despite last month’s government announcement that a National Construction Products Regulator is set to be established following damaging revelations at the Grenfell Inquiry that highlighted allegations of deeply disturbing industry malpractice for all to see, Conservative MPs are expected to be ordered to abstain in the vote on the Labour motion, as has been recent practice for opposition day debates.
This follows testimony to the Grenfell Inquiry that shone a light on the dishonest practice by some manufacturers of construction products, including deliberate attempts to game the system and rig the results of safety tests.
Announcing the new National Construction Products Regulator last month, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “The Grenfell Inquiry has heard deeply disturbing allegations of malpractice by some construction product manufacturers and their employees, and of the weaknesses of the present product testing regime. We are establishing a national regulator to address these concerns and a review into testing to ensure our national approach is fit for purpose. We will continue to listen to the evidence emerging in the Inquiry, and await the judge’s ultimate recommendation - but it is already clear that action is required now and that is what we are doing.”
But Debbonaire said a number of Tories believed more should be done on the issue. She said: “This is bigger than party politics – this is about people’s lives, and feeling safe in their own home, and protecting them from going bankrupt.”