The newly appointed levelling up secretary Simon Clark has set out his commitment to building safety and protecting leaseholders, stating he is “determined to finish the job my predecessors started”.
In an op-ed originally published in The Telegraph, Clark, who most recently served as chief secretary to the treasury, says what happened at Grenfell Tower was “nothing short of a national tragedy” and “it is our duty as a government to fix this, and ensure that it never happens again”.
He also highlights his intentions of “fixing the system for good, ensuring that industry rectifies the problems it created and making sure that the leaseholders who have been so unfairly caught up in this scandal get the relief and protection they deserve”.
The new housing secretary adds: “Just a few weeks into the job I am hearing from leaseholders who are still waiting for remediation works to be carried out, who are unable to sell, and face sky-high building insurance premiums.”
Clark says in recent months, the government has taken “big steps in the right direction” including the Building Safety Act, which came into force over the summer.
The act means that every block of flats must now have someone responsible for a building’s safety and the residents who live in it.
It also provides far-reaching legal protections to leaseholders so that they’re no longer hit with unfair bills to fix cladding issues.
The new act means government have the power to force owners to fix dangerous buildings for which they’re responsible and ensure remediation works are both fast and proportionate, Clark explains.
Of the largest housebuilders, Clark says 49 have now risen to the challenge set by the government and signed a public pledge to fix unsafe buildings that they developed or refurbished.
Clark says: “I look forward to working with this group on our ambitious housing agenda to deliver the homes and growth this country deserves.”
“We will shortly turn those pledges into legally binding contracts, which will give residents confidence that their homes will be made safe and that leaseholders will not have to pay,” he adds.
However, Clark highlights that housebuilders who fail to act responsibly may be blocked from commencing developments and being granted building control sign-off for their buildings.
He also reveals that this month, the government has taken steps to set up a scheme in law to show which housebuilders are doing the right thing, and which are failing to do so.
The Recovery Strategy Unit will expose and pursue firms and individuals involved in the most egregious cases of building safety neglect.
“I expect the first cases to be brought very soon,” according to Clark, who says the government is “determined to hold the worst actors to account, deliver for leaseholders, and restore confidence in the housing market”.
“But this was never about heaping blame on one part of the sector. It’s about making the whole industry, including construction product manufacturers, play its part in fixing the wrongs of the past.”
Clark says the housing department is working alongside the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to ensure that “appalling practices within the insurance industry, like the sharing of commissions between brokers and managing agents, which can drive up prices for consumers, are brought to a swift end”.
He reveals that the department is also working with the lending industry to ensure leaseholders are no longer trapped by over-the-top risk aversion and unnecessary paperwork, freeing them to take their next step on the housing ladder.
He says: “I welcome their commitments so far but now is the time to see tangible changes to unlock the market.”
“We will make homes safer. We will protect leaseholders from crippling costs. And we will work to restore the right of everyone in this country to feel safe in the place where they and their loved ones sleep at night.”