With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the remediation of private sector residential buildings with aluminium composite material cladding.
In the wake of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, the Government acted urgently to address the serious fire and public safety risks exposed by the tragedy. Throughout, the safety of residents has remained our priority. We have from the outset sought expert advice, which together with our own testing programme has highlighted the unparalleled fire risk posed by ACM cladding of the type believed to be present on Grenfell Tower. The Government are clear that the type of ACM cladding believed to be on Grenfell Tower, and present on hundreds of other high-rise buildings, is not safe. This type of ACM is exceptional owing to the high risk it poses as an accelerant of fire. It did not comply with building regulations and should never have been put up.
For many years, building regulations have included a requirement that exterior walls be constructed to resist the spread of fire. Since the Grenfell tragedy, we have taken action to put that beyond doubt. We have amended the law to explicitly ban combustible materials from use in the exterior walls of all high-rise residential buildings, as well as in hospitals, residential care premises, dormitories in boarding schools, and student accommodation over 18 metres. That ban applies to all new buildings in these categories and to those buildings when major works to the exterior walls take place. The long-standing requirement that exterior walls should adequately resist the spread of fire continues to apply to all other high-rise buildings, including commercial buildings, being developed or undergoing major works to exterior walls.
With the support of local authorities and fire and rescue services, we have identified a total of 433 high-rise residential and other buildings with unsafe ACM cladding. All these buildings have been assessed by fire and rescue services and interim safety measures are in place where necessary, and these measures are kept under review by fire and rescue services, but we recognise that residents will have true peace of mind only when unsafe cladding has been removed and replaced with safe materials. In those buildings owned by local authorities and housing associations, we are making strong progress. We have made £400 million available to pay for the remediation of ACM cladding, and remediation has started or been completed in 87% of social sector buildings, with plans and commitments in place to remediate all remaining buildings.
We have also seen some progress in the private sector. Some building owners have acted swiftly and responsibly to put plans in place for full remediation of the cladding on their buildings and committed to protecting leaseholders from bearing the costs. This progress has been supported by the work of a remediation taskforce chaired by Ministers. In addition, where necessary, the Government are supporting local authorities to use their enforcement powers to ensure that building owners take the required action.
That said, too many building owners have failed to take responsibility. Many building owners have been too slow to co-operate to enable the prompt identification of buildings with unsafe ACM cladding and have since dragged their feet in planning for remediation. The result is that, almost two years on from the Grenfell tragedy, an unacceptable number of residents are still living in buildings that, while benefitting from additional safety measures in the interim, will not be remediated fully within an acceptable timescale.
Moreover, many leaseholders face unfair, and often substantial, costs. The Government believe this to be completely unacceptable. Leaseholders find themselves in this position through no fault of their own, and this is not morally defensible. The Housing Minister, my officials and I have all met residents affected by these issues and heard their personal concerns. We all appreciate their anguish and we pay tribute to their resilience and strength. I also want to acknowledge the continued work of Grenfell United, the UK Cladding Action Group and others. Many people told us they lived in constant fear—fear for the safety of their home; fear of the possibility of having to find tens of thousands of pounds for remediation; fear that they could no longer sell their properties and may have to forfeit them if costs are not met.
Where building owners have failed to step up, it is now imperative that the Government act. We must ensure the long-term safety of the people living in these buildings. The Government are therefore announcing today a new fund to unblock progress in remediating private sector high-rise residential buildings. First and foremost, this fund is about public safety. It will allow remediation to happen quickly, restore peace of mind and allow residents living in these blocks to get on with their lives. It will also protect leaseholders from bearing the cost. Building owners or those responsible for fire safety should prioritise getting on with the work necessary to make their buildings permanently safe. The new fund, which is estimated at £200 million, will cover the full cost of remediating the unsafe ACM cladding systems in privately owned high-rise residential buildings. This funding is being provided entirely for the benefit of the leaseholders in the buildings.
Important reforms of leasehold and implementing the Hackitt review’s recommendations on the safety of high-rise residential buildings are already in train. I will update the House on implementation in the coming weeks. When the new system is in place, it will help to prevent leaseholders from being confronted with unaffordable one-off charges.
Several developers and freeholders have already agreed to fund the costs of remediation and not to pass them on to leaseholders. Many of them have already agreed to maintain their commitment. The owners or developers who have made those commitments include Taylor Wimpey, Legal & General, Mace Group, Lendlease, Barratt Developments and Aberdeen Standard Investments. I commend them for the responsible and moral position that they have taken.
The fund does not absolve industry from taking responsibility for the failures that led to the ACM being wrongly put on buildings. As a condition of funding, we will stipulate that building owners must pursue warranty and insurance claims and any appropriate action against those responsible for putting unsafe cladding on the buildings, with moneys to be repaid to the Government.
We will write to all potential fund applicants by the end of next week to start engaging them in preparation for formal applications. We will also make funding conditional on the building owner or responsible person agreeing a contract to start remediation works within a set period. We will provide further details on the application process; I urge those who intend to apply to start developing ACM remediation proposals and costings so that applications can be made and processed promptly.
Everyone has a right to feel safe in their home. We want to see building owners acting to ensure that unsafe ACM is replaced without delay. That is why we are taking this exceptional step today. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. His announcement is welcome and needed; most important, it should start to relieve the worry of the thousands of people who live day and night in a high-rise block that they know is unsafe. But why on earth have they had to wait for nearly two years? For two years they have had their lives on hold. How long will the thousands more who live in tower blocks with suspect non-ACM cladding have to wait for Government action?
Like the Secretary of State, I pay tribute to those who, with Labour, have campaigned hard for the Government to act: Grenfell United, the UK Cladding Action Group, the Manchester Cladiators, Inside Housing and hon. Members on both sides of the House. But after the solemn pledges made by the Prime Minister and other Ministers in the aftermath of the terrible Grenfell Tower fire, who would have thought that nearly two years later there would still be Grenfell residents in hotels and temporary accommodation, not permanent homes; that Grenfell-type cladding would still not have been replaced in almost eight in 10 blocks; that in over half of them, no work would have started at all; and that no comprehensive testing programme would have been done on the estimated 1,700 high-rise or high-risk buildings with dangerous non-ACM cladding? The Secretary of State says that the Government acted urgently. The sorry truth is that in the face of these post-Grenfell problems, the Government have been frozen like a rabbit in the headlights—too weak and too slow to act at every stage and on every front.
On the detail of the Secretary of State’s announcement, is the £200 million new money from the Treasury to his Department, or will it be taken from other housing programmes? Is the fund simply a bail-out for block owners and developers who will not do their duty to replace dangerous cladding? How will he ensure that they pursue liability claims and repay the public purse? Will he consider emergency legislation to make block owners actually do this work and pay for it?
Is the fund enough? Per block, it seems to be only half the funding announced last year for the social sector. The Secretary of State says that the fund will cover the costs for 170 privately owned blocks that have Grenfell-style ACM cladding. Will he fund the costs for other blocks that are found to have similarly dangerous non-ACM cladding?
I have to tell the Secretary of State that warm words and fresh funding will mean very little to worried residents unless they know that the dangerous cladding on all blocks will be removed and replaced, and that as leaseholders they will not pick up the bill. Will he now set a hard deadline for that work, so that every block and every resident can be made safe?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for our announcement. It is right that the Government have acted, but I underline the fact that the primary responsibility rests and rested with the building owners and with those responsible. We have now stepped in because of the failures we have seen in the private sector, although we acknowledge and recognise the many building owners and developers who have done the right thing by stepping up and agreeing to provide or maintain funding to address the need for remediation.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about urgency and timing. We did act with urgency in terms of the advice given. Indeed, I indicated in my statement the challenges in identifying some of the blocks affected and the work that was done at pace with local authorities. In some cases, local authorities had to take enforcement action to enable us to survey and identify those buildings, working with the relevant fire authorities, to which I pay tribute for their analysis and advice, and with the expert panel that was set up to advise Ministers.
The right hon. Gentleman asked several questions about the nature and manner of my announcement. One question was about non-ACM cladding systems. He will know that a testing programme is under way to assess non-ACM systems. That work is already happening. Advice was provided by the expert panel in December 2017 and updated in December 2018. That has been the focus, but clearly we will act on information and evidence provided as a consequence of the further testing programme. However, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to be careful not to prejudge the outcome or the results that we expect in the weeks ahead.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about funding. We intend to manage funding for the policy through our existing significant programme budgets. To put that in context, if the full amount were used, it would represent something like 3% of this year’s financial programming. We will keep the House updated through the supplementary estimate. The size of the new fund is informed by the public sector fund’s utilisation and drawdown, by the financial support that has been provided by some of the developers and builders, and by the insurance that has been activated for a number of the buildings.
With respect to the follow-through, clearly we want action to be taken to continue with liability claims. That process will be managed as we work with each of the building owners. As I indicated, we intend to start the process by the end of next week, by writing to the owners of the buildings that have been identified based on the information that we have.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman asked about legislation. We have supported local authorities in their enforcement activity through the joint inspection team. We remain ready, willing and able to support local authorities in the enforcement activity that they may determine to be necessary, and we are clarifying rules, regulations and guidance to assist them in that regard.
Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman, however, that I am very clear about the fact that the current regulatory regime needs further significant change. That is why the Hackitt review was undertaken in the first place. In her report, Dame Judith Hackitt presented a very stark picture of the need for responsibility, for tougher sanctions and, indeed, for different regulatory arrangements. I propose to update the House on next steps in the coming weeks, because I hear that message very clearly, and I intend to act.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, and thank both him and the Minister of State. I know that achieving this result has required significant legal complexities to be overcome, and I appreciate the fact that the Government have listened. This will come as a great relief to the residents of Northpoint, in my constituency, who, along with many others, have suffered stress as well as financial loss.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the fund will cover all cladding systems which include ACM cladding? As he knows, some cladding systems consist of a mixture of ACM and other forms of cladding, and it is obviously right for all systems to be subject to this protection.
I commend my hon. Friend for his strenuous efforts on behalf of his constituents in relation to Northpoint. I understand the issue that he has highlighted. The fund is intended to provide capital support for the removal of ACM cladding systems, including insulation, as well as the removal and disposal of existing cladding, replacement materials and labour. As part of the process of writing to building owners and of the subsequent work, we will specify that in greater detail to give reassurance.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of his statement. Any announcement of help for those affected by the Grenfell tragedy, directly or indirectly, must of course be welcomed, but as the second anniversary of the tragedy approaches, it is incredible that the public and MPs are still having to push for that help.
The first thing to establish is whether the fund will be enough to help those affected. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the £200 million that has been released will pay for work on all private towers, or are the reports that it will not be enough correct?
The replacement work has been described by the UK Cladding Action Group as a “cladding lottery”, because it only covers ACM panels of the type that helped to spread the fire at Grenfell. Combustible non-ACM cladding, and other fire safety problems such as faulty or missing fire breaks in wall systems, will not be covered. What additional action can the Secretary of State promise affected residents to ensure that these safety measures are completed in a full and joined-up manner?
People have reported losing their life savings on interim measures, being forced to delay starting a family because of the financial uncertainty or turning to drink or drugs, along with serious mental health issues. Does the Secretary of State believe it is acceptable that freeholders and developers have been allowed to simply refuse to pay to make their buildings safe, and does he believe that if changes to the law are required to force them to take their responsibilities seriously, the Government will give that serious consideration?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming my announcement. I should, for his sake, make it clear that this applies only in England, because, as he knows, responsibility for housing policy and building regulations is a devolved matter.
I have already responded to some of the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised. As I have said, the £200 million represents an estimate of the cost, based on the existing experience of remediation—some of the work that has already been done—and taking account of instances in which developers, or insurance, are already in place. It is there to provide capital support. It is because of the need for urgency that we are taking steps to ensure, as a priority, that there is no need to rely on interim measures, because of both the nature and the cost of such measures.
I absolutely endorse the hon. Gentleman’s broader point about the need for developers and freeholders to stand up and do the right thing: I have stated that very plainly on a number of occasions, and I am hugely frustrated by the action—of lack of action—on the part of a number of those involved. He asked about changes in the law; that issue clearly flows from the Hackitt review, and, as I have said, I will update the House.
I welcome the statement, but does the Secretary of State share my concern about the difficulties that the Department has had to surmount in order to be in a position to make such a statement, and about the fact that it was necessary in the first place? As he has said, many in the industry have acted responsibly and swiftly, but too many have not. May I encourage him, as he finishes—quickly, I hope—the work involved in responding to the Hackitt review, to apply that learning—the experience of just how difficult it has been for him and his Department to put this programme together—and to reflect in his response the fact that many residents have the same issues, day in day out, with the owners of the buildings in which they live? We should all bear in mind that while those owners are quite happy to take the gains that come with owning a building, they must also take the responsibilities that it brings.
I entirely agree with the points that my right hon. Friend has made. I think that she senses my real frustration and, indeed, anger at some of the practice that I have seen. We are taking this exceptional step because of the nature of the material with which we are dealing, but it has also shone a light on some of the wrongful and damaging practice that is out there, including practice in the construction industry. We are continuing to pursue those issues, and will follow through on them in our response to the Hackitt review.
I very much welcome the money, although I have to say that the Department‘s idea of urgency is not quite the same as mine, two years after Grenfell. I think that the Secretary of State was wise to make his statement just under the wire, before the second anniversary of that disaster. If he will be writing to owners in the next week or so, he presumably already knows what steps he will be asking them to take to comply with the requirement to seek compensation from those who installed the cladding when that is possible. If he knows what steps will be taken, will he share that information with us, and will he also tell us who will decide whether those steps are sufficient?
In the case of an individual building, it will be up to the owners to set out what steps will be required. Obviously we will inform them of the nature of the information that we require about, for instance, assessments and the various bids and tenders that we would expect to have been undertaken. The differences between individual buildings, the nature of the system and the extent of the ACM cladding on each building have been very much in our minds in relation to the operation of the public sector fund, and we will apply that experience to the operation of the new scheme. However, I understand that sense of the need for continued pace, given that where substantial works are required, planning permissions will be needed, and given the nature of some of the construction work that will be necessary. It is precisely that work in which we will be engaged.
I think my right hon. Friend is properly fulfilling the words that he uttered on 30 April 2018, when he said that leaseholders would not be left in the lurch. Members in all parts of the House will be grateful for that.
We fully understand why the Minister of State was unable to make a statement of this kind yesterday, at a meeting which was chaired by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and attended by members of the UK Cladding Action Group and many other experts. I hope that what was said at that meeting will be passed on to the Department, because it is important for us to continue to make progress, and we are grateful for the lead that my right hon. Friend has given.
Let me also say to my right hon. Friend that it is vital that he, and his permanent secretary, acknowledge the role of those at Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, who were the first to identify the fact that there was no simple solution. It was they who caused the Government to ask the Law Commission to look into the problems of leasehold. I ask him to ensure that his officials and LEASE, the Government’s Leasehold Advisory Service, respect Martin Boyd and Sebastian O’Kelly, without whom no Member of Parliament would have been able to get as far as we have, together, across the Chamber.
My hon. Friend rightly points out the contribution of many people in the steps that have been taken and in providing the essential technical and other information to inform and assist in the taking of robust action where required, and we will continue to engage in that. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend: he has been a passionate advocate of the rights of leaseholders and others across the House, and that pressure and contribution has helped to make a difference.
This bail-out for unscrupulous freeholders and developers is welcome, especially to leaseholders like mine at New Providence Wharf, so I thank the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues for the money, as will the UK Cladding Action Group, the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership mentioned by the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and Inside Housing—this statement probably guarantees the Secretary of State a splash front page in its next issue, which can’t do him any harm. The steps the Government have had to take show the weaknesses of the unregulated leasehold sector. Can the Secretary of State confirm that his Department will redouble its efforts to fulfil the promises of comprehensive leasehold reform as soon as possible?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and for his campaigning on these issues of fire safety, as well as on leasehold, over many months. Regardless of whether I look forward to coverage in Inside Housing, I recognise the work it has done in assisting and helping to shine a light on a number of these factors. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are programmes of work by the Law Society and other agencies, and the Law Commission’s overarching work on leasehold is a separate programme that we intend to continue. We will continue to engage with the hon. Gentleman and others in relation to progress on that.
Will the Secretary of State explain how this welcome scheme will work in a couple of respects? Is the list of 433 vulnerable buildings going to be published? How will those who might be living in a building where no work has been done be able to access the scheme, and will any of the money be recoverable from the freeholders who refuse to do the work of their own volition?
We are aware of all the survey work and other steps that local government has been involved in, and I pay tribute to local councillors for their active engagement, alongside fire authorities, in enabling us to arrive at this position. As I have said, we want claims to continue to be made against those with responsibility and liability, whether through warranty claims or insurance, and to see that moneys are repaid. There are 175 private residential buildings and 159 social residential buildings where ACM cladding has been identified, and steps and interim measures will be in place to give assurance now. We will continue to engage with the authorities and building owners as we make progress in this regard.
Last March six buildings in the centre of Leeds were identified as still having dangerous ACM cladding. The freeholders of some of them have announced they would meet the cost, but for constituents of mine who live in buildings where that commitment has not been given, today’s announcement will be very welcome, and I thank the Secretary of State for it. Can he clarify the following two points? First, will freeholders who have said they will pay for the work but have not begun it be eligible for the funding? Secondly, as the Secretary of State will be aware, many people have for months and months been paying the cost of waking watches, and those who have been most heavily penalised are those with freeholders who have not lived up to their responsibilities, which is why they are still paying for a waking watch. Who does the Secretary of State think ought to meet those costs? In my view, speaking on behalf of my constituents it should not be them, as this is an unjustifiable expense which is not their fault.
The right hon. Gentleman will have heard me say previously where I think moral responsibility lies. It should not be leaseholders who pick up the cost, which is why I am making the statement today in relation to the capital costs and making progress so that waking watches and other interim measures are minimised and foreshortened. On the question of freeholders, in essence the scheme is available to all private sector buildings that fall within its remit, potentially including those where commitments have already been made, but, as I have said, a number of those developers and building owners have said that, notwithstanding that, they maintain their commitment and we are trying to keep this simple and make sure we meet all legal requirements so that there is swift progress.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and his work and that of the Minister for Housing in securing this fund. This was a tough decision, but it is the right decision, and it seems to have gone even further than the Select Committee recommendation of a low-interest loan. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that this is a grant rather than a loan and in no circumstances is it repayable by the long leaseholders?
I can give my hon. Friend that confirmation, and I pay tribute to him for his steadfast work on the Select Committee and outside in championing these issues. I also join him in paying tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing who has also been steadfast in advancing the issues of concern. We looked at questions such as whether a loan arrangement could work but ultimately, given the complexity, the time that would have been involved and the need for all sorts of different consents, and given that my priority is providing a sense of assurance for leaseholders and getting on with this, we decided to adopt this structure.
I thank the Secretary of State for his announcement. We in Tower Hamlets have among the highest number of ACM-cladded blocks so it is very welcome, but it has taken two years and people fighting tooth and nail to get here, particularly the campaign groups as well as Members across the House. Although the amount of money is welcome, does the Secretary of State believe that it is adequate to cover the number of properties affected, and will he today commit to look at the 1,700 high-rise and high-risk blocks with dangerous non-ACM cladding so that their residents can sleep at night in peace without having to campaign for a further two years for us to get to this point again? I welcome the work of the Secretary of State and the Minister but we need urgent action on those outstanding properties too.
As I have indicated, through the inputs of the expert panel in relation to non-ACM systems, we have already provided advice to building owners, which was refreshed again last December. We have the testing programme that has commenced and we are looking at the results carefully. I do highlight the exceptional nature of the ACM material and the advice we have seen that underlines the exceptional steps I am taking today. I do understand the frustration, strain and stress that so many people living in these blocks have felt and continue to feel. On costs, we have assessed this on the basis of commitments, insurance and the experience in relation to the public sector fund, so it has been judged carefully but we keep it under review.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. It is good news for the residents of Heysmoor Heights in Liverpool, a block owned by the offshore Abacus Land 4, where the work has been done but residents have been charged for it. Will the Secretary of State ensure the residents are reimbursed for the amounts they have paid and that any debts some have accrued because they have been unable to pay are wiped off?
I hope that I can give some reassurance to the hon. Lady. The scheme is intended to cover situations where remediation work to remove ACM cladding and replace it has already been done but those costs have been passed on to the leaseholders. That is why I made the point that this issue is about public safety but also the residents or leaseholders themselves. I hope that gives reassurance, but I and the Minister for Housing will be happy to remain in contact with the hon. Lady to ensure that the information is properly provided and we see that followed through.
Can the Secretary of State clarify whether this money is being made available to compensate those freeholders who wilfully refuse to spend money on remedial action to remove ACM cladding unless they are compensated for the leaseholders’ share of the cost of carrying out the work? In other words, are we compensating the worst actors in this situation?
It is worth explaining to the hon. Gentleman that, as a matter of law, responsibility and liability effectively fall on the leaseholders themselves—court cases have demonstrated this—and the aim of this scheme is to protect those leaseholders. We want to ensure that we make progress and deal with the public safety issues that I have already described. Yes, we are obviously working with those building owners as a point of contact, but that does not in any way cut against the other points that I have made about those who are responsible, about liability, about insurance and about other factors, which we are obviously building within the scheme as well.
I welcome this announcement and echo the words of support that the Secretary of State has expressed for Grenfell United, the UK Cladding Action Group and others who have campaigned on this issue. Will he clarify one point in relation to his statement? He said that the funding would be conditional on the building owner
“agreeing a contract to start remediation works within a set period.”
Can he say what that set period will be? Can he also tell us what will happen if they do not do it within that set period? Would he perhaps be willing to name and shame those who are unwilling to take their responsibilities seriously?
I entirely understand the right hon. Gentleman’s point. He has expressed the frustration that so many of us feel. There are companies that have done the right thing, and I have named a number of companies that are still fulfilling and standing up behind the commitments that they have already made. Equally, however, there are those that have not done so. He asked about the condition. We are trying to find a way of acting as a lever or catalyst. We can say, “Okay, you have made an application and accepted those works, but we need to have a means of staying in contact to get an update to ensure that the work is actually being done.” From me, what matters is seeing that the action is followed through and fulfilled. It is difficult to give the right hon. Gentleman a set period, because of the different nature of the works required on each building. Different cases will require different works, but the purpose behind the condition is to ensure that those buildings are remediated.
I am not sure that the Secretary of State responded to the last question that the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), asked him, which was whether there was a hard deadline by which all the work had to be done and all the cladding removed from private and social buildings. If there is no such deadline, why not?
I thought I had responded to the question on timing. We know from experience that the remediation and construction works could take many months in some cases, so it is difficult to set a specific period. Each building and each set of circumstances will be different, and the nature of the works required will therefore be different in each case. However, if the hon. Lady is saying that we need to act at pace and with a sense of urgency, I entirely agree with her. That is why we have sought to construct the scheme in this way, and we will follow through to ensure that action is taken.
It is almost two years since the horrifying and deadly Grenfell Tower fire, and I find it unacceptable that almost eight in 10 of the other blocks across our country identified as having Grenfell-style cladding have not had it removed and replaced. Why have the Government taken so long to act, after their solemn promise to the nation? Will the Secretary of State now set a deadline by which all blocks have to be made safe? And importantly, if this money is to come from the existing budget, will he tell us what the Government will not be doing?
On the latter point, I have already indicated how we intend to manage this, and we will keep the House updated through the normal supplementary estimates process. The hon. Gentleman talks about his frustration—it is also my frustration—that so many private sector freeholders have just not acted. We needed to take action to identify the enforcement action that councils needed to take to determine whether the material was on those buildings. I understand his frustration and the strain that this has placed on so many people living in those blocks. That is why we have taken this exceptional action today; ultimately, the responsibility should reside with the building owners to take the steps that they have failed to take thus far. I judge that today’s action is absolutely necessary because of the pace that we have not seen from them.
Public safety should always come first, and the Secretary of State’s announcement today is welcome indeed, but why is it that, two years on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy and despite the assurances given at the time, not one single penny has been forthcoming to make safe the 213 tower blocks in Birmingham and their 10,000 house- holds? Crucially, this is despite the fact that work has been recommended by the West Midlands fire service on the installation of sprinklers. Will the Secretary of State do what he has quite rightly done in relation to the residents of private tower blocks, and will he agree to meet a delegation of Birmingham tenants from those 213 council tower blocks?
I would underline the support that we have given to public sector buildings, the £400 million fund that was committed last year and the progress that is being made on the removal of ACM cladding from buildings on the public sector estate. We are learning from that process in terms of the implementation and the steps that I am announcing today. The hon. Gentleman highlights broader fire safety measures, and building owners obviously have responsibilities in that regard. I note that he has raised the issue of sprinklers the past. We are looking at that in the context of new buildings through what is known as approved document B. Sprinklers can clearly be effective in number of cases, and we have worked with councils and others to discuss funding flexibilities to deliver on that.
I find it very difficult to squeeze out a thank you for this statement. What a mess this has been! What a rotten time people have had! For two years, many people in this country have had a miserable existence, not knowing what will happen and not knowing how much debt they are getting into or whether they will be able to repay what they have borrowed. When we google “building regulations”, up pops the Department. This Government are shilly-shallying. I do not have one of these buildings in my constituency, but we have them in Yorkshire. The fact is that this Government have looked for scapegoats all the time. They blame the construction industry, the local authorities and the freeholders. The Secretary of State has been doing it this morning. All those people thought they were complying with building regulations; they thought they were complying with the law as it stood. Then we had the dreadful disaster of Grenfell and of course the door opened to disputes. The lawyers came in, and that is always bad news. Ordinary working people have suffered for two years, and the Secretary of State does not get much credit from me this morning.
I absolutely understand the pressure and strain that so many people have felt they were under, but actually we have taken steps to work with fire authorities and local authorities in this regard. The hon. Gentleman makes a number of assertions, and he almost seems to suggest that those who wrongly put up this ACM material in the first place and who have wrongly failed to act have no responsibility at all. I encourage him to read the Hackitt review. Yes, it sets out in great detail where the law needs to be changed, and I have accepted that. I have said that we will take further steps that regard, but there is equally responsibility placed on the construction sector and the private sector. I strongly encourage him to read that report.
This announcement is long overdue, but it is nevertheless welcome. On a number of affected sites in my constituency, such as the Durkan-owned Babbage Point development in west Greenwich, the building owner has the necessary planning permission but is dragging their feet, with the significant cost of a permanent waking watch being passed on to leaseholders. I noted what the Secretary of State said about the funding being conditional on works beginning within a set period, but may I press him on the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)? What more is the Secretary of State willing to do beyond to appeals to morality to ensure that private building owners, not leaseholders, bear the full cost of the interim fire safety measures that have been necessary, in many cases, because building owners have not acted promptly?
The key thing is obviously to make quick progress, and I note what the hon. Gentleman says about that building. Part of the response involves continuing to work with local authorities on enforcement action where different building owners are not taking the steps they should in a timely fashion. I will certainly be interested to receive any more details on that specific case. There are legal liabilities regarding where responsibilities rest, but I want to see progress being made quickly. If there are examples of building owners dragging their feet, we want to hear about them so that that we can work with local authorities to see that action is taken.