Public register of fire risk assessments

Part of Fire Safety Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:15 pm ar 25 Mehefin 2020.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Llafur, Hammersmith 3:15, 25 Mehefin 2020

I agree with these sensible new clauses, because they would remedy the defects identified by the FBU and others in how the system currently works, by professionalising it and taking it seriously. Having said that, they would create another requirement to be actioned by the Government. Whether the Government accept the new clauses or not, I am sure that they wish to see fire risk assessments and mediation carried out properly and efficiently.

We heard evidence this morning from the Fire Safety Federation and the head of fire safety at the L&Q Group about how the system is working—or not working—in practice. Whether the Minister accepts the requirements, we seriously need to address the current investigation process. I say this with no disrespect to the witnesses, but I was not filled with confidence by them saying that the processes of assessment must be looked at, with is done either through the enforcers, the owners and the Government coming together, or through everyone doing their own bit, because it is simply not working at the moment.

I gave the example, which I will briefly amplify, of a block of some 400-plus flats owned by Notting Hill Genesis, a big housing association in London, with which some issues to be resolved have been found. Those issues are not the most serious issues; there is some timber construction and some cladding on the building. Most of the building is constructed of brick. The effect was that the building perhaps did not have as high a priority as more dangerous structures. The effect of that has been to set out for all residents, including those leaseholders who have sold or are trying to sell their properties, a process that goes through six separate stages: initial survey, survey review, developer engagement, project planning, specification and tender, and remedial works. That process could take as little as 16 months or up to 42 months, and only at the end of it would an EWS1 form be issued. I thought that was bad enough, but we heard from the head of fire safety at L&Q that they expect it to be 10 years before all the buildings in London are dealt with.

That situation cannot be allowed to continue, so I ask the Minister to ensure, when he looks at the issues raised by the new clauses, that we have competent and professional assessment of risk, and proper processes to carry out those assessments. We must also look at the speed at which that work is done, because the Government have found it necessary during the covid crisis, and previously during the housing crisis, which we see particularly in London but which exists generally across the country, to intervene with measures that help people either to get on the housing ladder, to upscale or to move; there need to be different types of packages in that regard.

That is needed here and now. This matter cannot be left to the relationship between leaseholders or tenants and their landlords or owners at the end of the building process; it must be for the Government to address. Otherwise, in what is already an extremely depressed and fractured housing market, this situation will cause further delay and misery. It is not just a case of people being forced to stay in properties that they do not want to stay in—they want to move, perhaps because their family is growing, or because they want to take up a job in another part of the country. This situation is causing real financial and social distress. That may be an unintended consequence of what is designed to be an efficient process, but the process is simply not working at the moment.