Housing secretary admits building safety guidance pre-Grenfell was ‘faulty’ and ‘ambiguous’

Michael Gove has given housebuilders six weeks to sign contracts to fix fire safety defects in their blocks or face a ban on developing – even on schemes which have planning permission.

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Michael Gove is secretary of state at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has today published the contract that will give legal force to housebuilders’ pledge to fix “life-critical” fire safety defects on their own blocks going back 30 years.

Negotiations have been ongoing about the wording of the contract since last summer, with housebuilders initially warning that it would leave them open to costs for works that go beyond “life-critical defects”.

A letter to housebuilders today from Richard Goodman, director general, building safety at the DLUHC, says Gove expects housebuilders to sign the new version of the contract by 13 March.

If they do not do so they face a ban on “commencing developments for which they have planning permission, and from receiving building control approval for construction that is underway.” The government confirmed that it will set up a Responsible Actors scheme in the spring, using powers under the Building Safety Act, to enable it to do this.

The letter also said that developers failing to sign the contract “should expect that fact to be public” with the department informing “investors and customers of the risks arising from continuing their commercial relationships” with the developer in question.

Gove, the housing secretary, said “there will be nowhere to hide” for those who “fail to step up to their responsibilities”.

He added: “Too many developers, along with product manufacturers and freeholders, have profited from these unsafe buildings and have a moral duty to do the right thing and pay for their repair.

“In signing this contract, developers will be taking a big step towards restoring confidence in the sector and providing much-needed certainty to all concerned.”

A total of 49 developers have so far signed the developer pledge and are expected to commit more than £2bn to fixing defects on buildings that are above 11m in height. Persimmon today confirmed that it will sign the contract.

Dean Finch, group chief executive at the £3.6bn-turnover housebuilder, said: “The terms of the contract are entirely consistent with our existing commitment to protect leaseholders in multi-storey buildings we constructed from the costs of remediating cladding and life-critical fire-related safety issues.” 

>> See also: Gove cladding deal tracker: how much extra will each housebuilder pay?

>> See also: Gove is back: the key questions facing the returning housing secretary

>> See also: Building the Future Commission - introducing the building safety stream

Gove also told the Sunday Times yesterday that the government did not think hard enough or police effectively enough “the whole system of building safety” before Grenfell in 2017.

He said: “The guidance was so faulty and ambiguous that it allowed unscrupulous people to exploit a broken system in a way that led to tragedy.”

He said there were “sins of omission and sins of commission”. He added: “There’s neglect and a failure to effectively get the system in place, which is one thing. And then there is an active willingness to put people in danger in order to make a profit, which to my mind is a significantly greater sin.”

Gove also said he is still committed to the Conservative manifesto pledge of building 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, despite announcing plans to make it easier for local authorities not to meet local housing need.

The housing secretary said: “The targets have operated as a stick, which can be handed to the developer or the planning inspectorate to beat a local authority or community into submission. I don’t believe that is sustainable.

He said targets will still be set, but communities will be able to lower them over “environmental or aesthetic or other constraints”.