Watching the Secretary of State’s announcement on the cladding scandal, was a frustrating exercise.

Don’t get me wrong, the additional £3.5bn for fire safety remediation is welcome, but it feels like a missed opportunity and many leaseholders will rightly be bitterly disappointed that the Government didn’t go further, particularly to support those in buildings under 18m.

It’s telling that some of the fiercest criticism of the package came from the Government’s own benches, with Stevenage MP, Stephen McPartland tweeting that he was watching with his head in his hands, ‘Wondering how he can have got this so wrong. It is a betrayal of millions of leaseholders. It is not good enough.’ 

McPartland is right. It feels unjust, but also misses a huge opportunity, to deliver for leaseholders and housing associations, while boosting the wider economy.

By adopting the fire remediation work into the National Infrastructure Strategy, the Government could finally solve this national scandal and at the same time drive the Covid recovery.

I can’t think of many things more urgent or that better meet its stated priorities of boosting growth, boosting carbon net zero delivery, supporting private investment and making the most of new technology.

Making fire remediation a priority would undoubtedly also boost jobs in the construction industry.

According to MHCLG the UK’s housing supply chain is estimated to be worth £12bn per year. Every £1m of output supports 19.9 direct jobs and 15.6 indirect jobs. With around £16bn of repairs urgently needed, the Government could create significant employment opportunities, boost tax revenue and ensure that urgent safety work is completed swiftly.

Government could make it a priority to support ethical house builders and developers with contracts to deliver this work. Companies that have a track record of putting ESG at the centre of their business model; who have embraced technology to drive down carbon emissions and boost community engagement. 

There is also a huge opportunity to upgrade the energy efficiency of the buildings where work needs to be undertaken. Any decent property services director will tell you that coordinating major works makes financial sense, and boosts customer satisfaction.

Surely this would make more sense than the current piecemeal approach that seems to have united politicians across the spectrum in frustration at its inadequacy in scale and pace.

Of course, Government can and should pursue the people who created this mess. Those developers who have failed to engage with leaseholders and housing associations over the last three years, should hang their heads in shame and be placed on notice that they will be meeting the costs, however long it takes.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my bemusement that a number of developers still don’t seem to feel any responsibility for the situation.

One major housebuilder in a letter to the Daily Mail appeared to suggest that any levy would be offset in a reduction in the affordable homes it would be prepared to deliver. In a world where what you say and do is being judged more than ever by consumers, I think this tone deaf pronouncement may come back to haunt them.

In the meantime, I hope that the housing sector takes its own steps by adapting its procurement policies to deny opportunities to those that had tried to weedle their way out of their responsibilities or tried to game fire safety regulations.

I hope that all housing associations will think very carefully before offering development or refurbishment contracts to builders who have let others in the sector down.



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