MHCLG Housing Check receives over 9,000 fire safety concerns

Housing minister confirms extent of engagement so far with mailbox set up to report fire-safety fears.

 

Housing Minister Esther McVey

A mailbox set up by MHCLG post Grenfell to report fire-safety fears has so far received over 9,000 e-mails.

The figure for July 2017-November 2019 was confirmed by Housing Minister Esther McVey in an answer to a written Common question from Labour’s Steve Reed.

In the wake of the Grenfell disaster, the Housing Checks mailbox was established so councils and housing associations could report their stock of buildings with unsafe aluminium composite cladding.

The inbox was advertised on GOV.UK.

“We are aware that other organisations and bodies have sent mail to this inbox on housing safety issues,” said McVey.

“As of November 2019, there were in excess of 9,000 emails in the Housing Checks mailbox dating back from June 2017 – we do not record the number of emails received each month from residents to the Housing Checks inbox.”

Reed moved on to reference recent fires in asking if MHCLG will make an assessment of the potential merits of banning the use of timber cladding in residential buildings.

McVey came back with the government’s 2018 ban on combustible materials in the external wall of buildings including blocks of flats, student accommodation, and care homes with a storey more than 18 metres in height.

The ban requires all materials that become part of an external wall or specified attachment achieve European Class A2-s1, d0 or Class A1, other than those covered by exemptions.

McVey confirmed there are currently no timber cladding panels able to achieve this performance.

“[MHCLG] intends to review the ban annually through monitoring arrangements and advice from bodies such as Building Regulations Advisory Committee for England,” said McVey.

“[MHCLG] is currently in the process of reviewing the scope of the ban and will report in due course.”

Reed then went for specifics asking if MHCLG holds figures on the number of blocks over 18m in height in England and Wales that have the same form of cladding as was on the Cube student-halls building in Bolton.

McVey confirmed MHCLG had begun a data collection exercise to “build a picture” of external wall systems in use on high-rise residential buildings over 18 metres – covering private and social buildings, student accommodation, and hotels.

“We will publish appropriate summary information from the data collection in our monthly Building Safety Programme data release in due course,” she said.

Labour’s Clive Betts asked what steps MHCLG planned to take as a result of the investigation into Persimmon homes – which found thousands of homes did not comply with building regulations on fire safety.

McVey fell back on housebuilders being responsible for ensuring they build “high-quality homes which are fit for purpose”.

Where Persimmon’s independent review had identified serious failings, Persimmon “will want to take immediate action” to address the concerns raised, she said.

Stressing the improving of the quality and safety of buildings as a government priority, McVey maintained the Building Safety and Fire Safety Bills would bring “fundamental change” in reforming both the regulatory frameworks and industry culture.

She also re-affirmed an intention to create a New Homes Ombudsman as a means of redress for homebuyers.

Labour’s Hilary Benn quizzed McVey on MHCLG financial support for owners of HPL-clad housing blocks to enable its removal.

Where government intervention does not remove responsibility for overall building safety from the building owner, McVey referenced related advice to building owners on the consideration of all routes to meet costs.

Government intervention to provide funding for the removal and replacement of unsafe ACM cladding is based on the “unparalleled” fire risk ACM poses, she said.

Benn then asked after assistance to leaseholders unable to sell their properties as a result of uncertainty over the content of the cladding.

McVey said lenders are lending on flats in high-rise buildings.

“But obtaining the necessary paperwork to support a decision can take time.

“Valuers can now refer to the form produced by the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) to manage valuations and lending on high-rise residential buildings,” she said.

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