I was pleased to hear the latest announcement from the government promise to protect more leaseholders from the costs of dangerous cladding and other fire safety problems. This is long overdue.
From my work as Shadow Housing Secretary, until May 2021, and in my ongoing campaigning in Bristol, I have seen how this crisis has devastated people’s lives since the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017. I recently compiled many Bristolians’ experiences in a letter to Michael Gove.
The government had originally proposed that people in buildings below 18 metres tall would be forced to take out loans to fix flammable cladding. This new announcement is a U-turn, instead forcing developers to pay the costs of their own corner-cutting and mistakes.
This proposal is similar to a solution Labour has been pushing for a long time.
The Tory government has long fought against taking this step. Ministers have repeatedly prioritised the interests of of property developers, many of whom donate vast sums to the Tory party. But it seems they are now being forced to do the right thing, thanks to campaigning by activists and Labour.
I’d like to congratulate everyone who has pushed for this change over many years. It has been hard won. Many of the activists campaigning hard for this change have also suffered immense stress and anxiety, trapped in dangerous flats with mounting bills.
But before we celebrate Michael Gove’s apparent change of heart, I think we should be cautious. It is not clear how the policy will be funded or enforced.
Furthermore, affected residents should be wary of trusting the Tories’ word on this. We have been here before. When I was Shadow Housing Secretary, my team and I counted 17 instances when government ministers (including Prime Ministers May and Johnson) had promised that leaseholders would not pay for a problem they did not cause. Subsequent policies broke this promise, heaping eye-watering costs onto leaseholders.
In fact, ministers have broken many other promises when it comes to cladding – and residents have often ended up losing out.
I will examine the detail of these announcements and keep fighting for justice. There is still a long way to go towards fixing this crisis. But the announcement yesterday was a step in the right direction.