Tory MPs accuse ministers of incompetence over cladding crisis

Owl’s understanding of the debate yesterday is that no Tory MPs backed the Labour motion but 35 did back a critical amendment. Who were they?

George Grylls www.thetimes.co.uk 

Conservative MPs have accused the government of incompetence in its handling of the cladding crisis that has left millions of leaseholders trapped in unsafe homes.

Ministers promised yesterday to bring forward a solution “very shortly” but warned that there would be “no quick fix” after Labour forced a debate on the issue.

In total 35 Conservative backbenchers have backed an amendment tabled by Royston Smith, the Tory MP for Southampton Itchen, and Stephen McPartland, the Tory MP for Stevenage, that would exempt leaseholders from the costs of removing unsafe cladding from blocks of flats. They need 44 signatures to overturn the government’s working majority.

Christopher Pincher, a housing minister, represented the government in yesterday’s debate after Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, was criticised for refusing to appear in the Commons. Pincher said it was “wrong and unjust” for leaseholders to bear the costs of fixing historic safety defects and he denounced building owners who had passed on remediation costs to leaseholders.

“There is no quick fix,” he said. “If there was, we would have done it long ago. It is complex. It involves many parties: leaseholders with different leases, developers, warranty holders, the insurance industry, mortgage lenders. We will be making a further announcement on this important work very shortly.”

The government has so far committed £1.6 billion to remove dangerous cladding from tower blocks more than 18m tall. MPs say that total costs could rise to £15 billion when all high-rise buildings are taken into account.

McPartland said he would not accept any solution that involved leaseholders taking on loans and he criticised ministers for their handling of the issue. “The government has been incompetent throughout this saga,” he said. “They’ve created a whole host of these problems.”

Smith said that ministers were not to blame but urged them to accept his amendment. “This government can give leaseholders the certainty and security which they deserve and let the unwitting victims of this crisis once again sleep soundly in their beds at night,” he said.

In the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy banks refused to issue mortgages on blocks of flats that were covered in cladding unless residents could obtain forms declaring the properties safe. Unable to sell their homes, leaseholders have been forced to pay for nightly patrols by fire wardens as well as sharply rising insurance costs.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, visited residents of an affected tower block in Woolwich, southeast London, before the debate, in which his party called on the government to establish a national cladding taskforce.

One in six properties, housing up to 11 million people, could be affected by the scandal, according to analysis released by the New Build Database.

Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow housing secretary, said: “Buying your first home is a life-defining moment but for so many what was a dream come true has become a nightmare. We need a solution to this crisis that fixes buildings and ensures that those responsible pay.”