On Wednesday 26 May, we met with Lord Greenhalgh and members of MHCLG’s Building Safety Team to discuss progress.
Once again, the meeting was not short of agenda items and there was a lot to cover. We made it clear that we wanted Lord Greenhalgh and members of the Building Safety Team at MHCLG to answer questions directly; however, we struggled to get straight answers.
We were extremely disappointed that there is still no progress on many key issues. As usual, there were the promises of what’s being worked on “at pace”, without any timescales. The government is also choosing to ignore the clear warning of the fire that took place at New Providence Wharf. Below is a breakdown of what was discussed in more detail:
New Providence Wharf fire: residents share their stories
The meeting was notably more tense than usual, given that it was the first time we had met with representatives from MHCLG since the New Providence Wharf fire and we were keen to see what updates they could give us regarding their conversations with Ballymore, the developer, and holding their inactions to account.
We had invited to the meeting affected residents from New Providence Wharf, who gave truly heartbreaking accounts of their experience on the morning of Friday 7 May 2021. We first heard from Nadim, who lives on Level 14 of the tower. Outlining the traumatic experience, Nadim said: “It was the most uncomfortable moment, not knowing if we would get out alive.” He made it clear to Lord Greenhalgh that the fire alarms had failed, the stairwell smoke extraction systems had failed, and the waking watch had failed. Two-and-a-half weeks later he has brought his wife and children back to the flat, with no hope or certainty that they will be safe.
We stressed that thanks to the residents’ awareness and quick thinking, and the fact the fire was not late at night, the situation was far less disastrous than it could have been.
Lord Greenhalgh made the point that all levels of government have been supporting “naming and shaming” developers who are not complying with remediation work deadlines.
We also heard from Nadim’s neighbours, Yasmin and Mira, who similarly expressed their fear of living in an unsafe block. Mira said: “We are living in fear daily. I have an eight-year-old daughter who is terrified to go to sleep. Our children are scared.”
We asked Lord Greenhalgh what action had been taken against the developer Ballymore.
Seemingly sympathetic, Lord Greenhalgh then stated that Ballymore are “not the norm”. He explained that New Providence Wharf was an “exceptionally difficult” building – letters had been sent and meetings had taken place, but the developer was being difficult. He accepted how harrowing the situation must be for residents but stated that we would have to wait for the outcome of the London Fire Brigade’s review of the fire.
We stressed that waiting for the London Fire Brigade’s review was too long and that, sadly, the NPW developer was acting very much in the way all developers act. We asked why the government had not taken more active steps to hold Ballymore, and other developers nationwide, to account.
Lord Greenhalgh recognises that government have a duty to act; the legal framework, however, is not strong enough to hold developers to account. He said that we will hopefully have some more answers before the summer recess, when the Building Safety Bill comes to be discussed.
We urged Lord Greenhalgh to set up a meeting with HM Treasury (again!)
Lord Greenhalgh responded by stating that he was trying his best but that the Treasury was not committing to attending a meeting at present because of the money that has been made available.
Building Safety Fund
Next, we moved on to discuss the Building Safety Fund. MHCLG shared some statistics with us, stating that 655 buildings had applied and £359 million of funding had been allocated so far, and that they would be publishing detailed guidance in due course. Lord Greenhalgh also made a point of stating that the Waking Watch Relief Fund deadline had been extended by four weeks.
We asked what happens if a waking watch is implemented after the deadline – to which Lord Greenhalgh responded by saying that was something we could review in the future.
We questioned if buildings over 18m with K15 would be entitled to funding.
The answer was “yes” but only if it is integral to the combustible external wall system.
We challenged the £5.1 billion that had been allocated by the government and how this would affect supply and demand.
We called for the government to stop using the building owners as a scapegoat, explaining that the two-month registration period had caused worry and rushed applications. We stressed that another extension to the deadline was insufficient – it should remain open for the foreseeable future. Lord Greenhalgh responded by saying that some building owners are not engaging in the process and are not responding when MHCLG follow up with them.
We asked (again!) for MHCLG to make the Draft Building Safety Fund agreement and waking watch agreement public.
MHCLG representative agreed to look into how best to achieve this.
We were given the following update regarding insurance: MHCLG are working with lenders and UK Finance and BSA to move lenders along and to help encourage them to adopt the RICS guidance. They also followed up on a recent case study that was sent on behalf of UKCAG with a surveyor. Lord Greenhalgh mentioned that Nationwide, in particular, are clearly not adopting the RICS guidance.
MHCLG also shared how they have been in talks with ABI – they are working on a proposal to see what can be done to resolve this issue.
We made it clear that the above information is nothing new. MHCLG haven’t even talked to Nationwide and the new policy is not going to wash on insurance policies.
We asked for updates on a range of other issues.
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