Negotiators are finalising text of pledge to remediate unsafe housing blocks but issue of funding for “orphan” buildings remains unresolved
Housebuilders look set to agree to repair housing blocks affected by the fire safety crisis going back 30 years in a deal with the government to end the dispute over who is responsible for cladding repairs.
Two separate sources close to the negotiations between the Home Builders Federation (HBF) and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said the sides were close to agreeing the wording of a pledge – which individual housebuilders would then be expected to sign – committing builders to remediate all properties above 11m built within the past 30 years with ongoing fire safety issues.
The news, first reported last night by Building’s sister title Housing Today, comes after housing secretary Michael Gove set a deadline of 31 March for a deal to be reached on the issue.
But the sources said there was no sign of an agreement on the parallel issue of the housebuilding industry’s wider contribution to pay for repairs to so-called “orphan” buildings. These are where owners cannot be traced and for which Gove has demanded a £4bn contribution from the sector.
The sources close to the negotiation said the “pledge” – which was being finalised – was set to commit housebuilders to:
- Remediate buildings taller than 11m they have previously built that now have identified fire safety issues
- Do so for all such buildings going back 30 years
- Do so without recourse to the government’s Building Safety Fund
If agreed, the deal appears to closely echo the HBF’s “offer” made to the government on 25 February, which was rejected by Gove earlier this month. However, the government does look to have secured a significant concession. Housebuilders initially offered only to repair buildings going back to 1 January 2000.
Gove said at the time that the HBF’s offer “falls short of full and unconditional self-remediation that I and leaseholders will expect us to agree”.
One source said the wording of the pledge was now expected to be agreed within the next few days, with housebuilders then likely to be asked to sign up individually. It is not known if all UK housebuilders will agree to sign the pledge.
Gove has used amendments to the Building Safety Bill, currently in Parliament, to bring in powers to prevent housebuilders who are not deemed “responsible actors” from gaining planning and building control approvals. While the government has not set out exactly how this will work, it is thought likely that builders who do not sign any agreed fire safety pledge will not be deemed “responsible actors” under the legislation – thus putting their ability to trade at risk.
One of the sources close to the negotiation said the question of the £4bn wider contribution was being passed on to a separate “round two” discussion over a future building safety levy, powers for which are also include in the Building Safety Bill.
This is despite the fact Gove explicitly said in his letter to the HBF last month that he was disappointed the HBF had not proposed a solution on that and that he wanted it to be part of “a fully funded plan to fix unsafe buildings [agreed] by the end of March”.
Housebuilders dispute the estimated £4bn cost of the repairs for “orphan” buildings of 11-18m, and say the wider industry – including product manufacturers and contractors – should contribute to the costs.
A spokesperson for the HBF said: “Our members remain fully committed to the principle that leaseholders should not have to pay for necessary fire safety remediation costs. We continue to engage constructively with government alongside our members to advance discussions and find a proportionate, industry-wide solution.”
The DLUHC has been contacted for comment.