Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for a statutory Code of Practice to set standards for cladding remediation works in occupied buildings; and for connected purposes.
There has rightly been a lot of focus in this place and across the country on the need to make buildings safe, particularly high-rise buildings. Next month is the sixth anniversary of the Grenfell tragedy. Everyone in this House will remember every single person who lost their life in that tragedy. It is right that, in the aftermath, there has been a huge focus on ensuring that buildings are safe—that has got a lot of attention.
There have been many cases in Ipswich of buildings that were not safe but have been or are in the process of being made safe. It is also right that attention is paid to how we pay for those works. Ensuring that leaseholders do not pay is something that I have spoken about many times before. I welcome the passing of the Fire Safety Act 2021 and the Building Safety Act 2022.
What has got slightly less attention is how such works are carried out. In Ipswich, we have a number of examples of cladding remediation works taking place. In one key example, there has been no respect for the residents, who are expected to continue to live inside those buildings as the works are taking place. I have spoken to the Minister before about the case of St Francis Tower in the heart of my constituency. Quite frankly, it has become a scar on the landscape. It is a constant reminder. When my constituents look at that building, which could not be more visible across the town, they think about the lives of those who have been expected to live inside it.
When the shrink wrap initially went on St Francis Tower, the works were expected to take eight months. Now, here we are almost two years later, and despite repeated emails and letters from me to the agent, I cannot get an answer; I cannot get a timescale for when the shrink wrap will come off. Let us be clear about what the shrink wrap is: it completely blocks out all natural light. For more than two years, a large number of my constituents have been expected to live in conditions that I would feel guilty having animals live in—no natural light, non-breathable material, terrible communications from the agent, repeatedly missed timescales with no explanation or justification. Even at this point, hundreds of my constituents are looking towards the summer, thinking that there will be no end point.
In addition to the main shrink wrap, we have recently had a blue film that prevents many of the windows from being opened. Constituents say that they cannot even cook because of poor ventilation. I have been inside the tower three times. The flats are small and do not have balconies or outdoor space. I remember talking to one constituent, who said that she used to derive great joy from having plants on her windowsill, but they were all dying because no natural light was allowed in by the shrink wrap. I believe that I have done everything I can. Block Management, the managing agent; RG Securities, the freeholder; and Oander and Gilmore, the contractors, have failed in their duty to stand up for residents.
We have other examples in Ipswich. Naively, when I went inside St Francis Tower, I could not believe that it was legal; that such conditions were allowed in today’s society. When a Minister visited the tower block, he said that it was “one of the worst” and most shocking examples that he had ever seen. What is the proposed code of practice about? It is about trying to ensure that what has happened at St Francis Tower never happens again anywhere else. We have some better examples in Ipswich involving other buildings for which the material used has been slightly better than that used for St Francis Tower. At Orwell Quay, for example, there is more of a netting material, which is better at letting natural light in and is more breathable. The companies involved have been much more responsible.
I thought that all the high-profile campaigning that the local newspaper and I did would pressure the companies involved to act with more corporate and social responsibility. I was naive; I was wrong. Now is the time to bring in a code of practice to ensure that rogue freeholders and rogue agents are held to account for behaving in a way that has had a detrimental and shocking impact on the quality of life of my constituents, whom I stand here today to represent forcefully—as forcefully as I need to. I have spoken to the Minister, and I understand that a code of practice is likely to be introduced, but it is absolutely vital that it has teeth. It cannot be dismissed as a flimsy document, which is why I believe it needs to be legally binding. If there are cases of building agents, freeholders and contractors disregarding it, they should be held accountable—there should be penalties.
What sort of things should the code of practice cover? It should cover the type of material used. It is vital that it does that, and we have to look at materials. I understand that when works take place and cladding is removed some kind of covering is needed to protect the structural integrity of the building, but is it beyond the wit of man to come up with a solution that does that, but which does not have a shockingly detrimental impact on the people expected to live in such buildings? It is important that standards are set on the level of communication with residents who are expected to live in those buildings, and that we give residents enough notice to plan, as well as the ability to relocate if it is felt that the works are too detrimental on people’s standard of living. We also need to consider points about ventilation and timescales. When timescales are repeatedly missed, there should be some kind of sanction.
Since I was first elected as the Member of Parliament for Ipswich cladding issues have been a key matter for me. The Minister will know about the situation at Cardinal Lofts and that, because of poor ventilation there, constituents have been relocated. Even now, they are in temporary accommodation, but sometimes for only three or four months. They do not know what is going to happen at the end of that period. There are a number of problems associated with Cardinal Lofts.
The Bill focuses on an issue which, I predict, will affect the constituencies of many hon. Friends and hon. Members. There will be examples in constituencies across the country. St Francis Tower was one of the first beneficiaries of the building safety fund—good. The building has been made safe—good. We understand and welcome that, and most of my constituents in such buildings accept that there will be a certain level of disruption. I look at St Francis Tower every day and hold myself partly responsible, as I have not been able to get the covering removed—I will be honest about that—but we are here now. I welcome the fact that a code of practice is being discussed, but we must make sure—this is why the Bill is necessary—that it is not a flimsy document and that these companies, which are morally responsible, are held to account.
I hope that this ten-minute rule Bill will get the support of the House and everyone in this place, and that it secures a Second Reading. One way or another, whether or not it is through this Bill, the key thing for me is that we put safeguards in place to make sure that there are no more St Francis Towers ever again, that such practices are made illegal and that those responsible are held to account.
Question put and agreed to.
That Tom Hunt, Elliot Colburn, Stephen McPartland, Royston Smith, Sir Peter Bottomley, Mark Menzies, Sir John Hayes, Paul Bristow, Dr Dan Poulter, Miriam Cates, Lee Anderson and Danny Kruger present the Bill.
Tom Hunt accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 November, and to be printed (Bill 303).