(Title Image: Dave Croker under Creative Commons Licence BY-SA-2.0)
The first short debate of the new term was led by David Melding MS (Con, South Wales Central).
Developers avoiding their moral obligations
Following the Grenfell Tower disaster, the issue of fire safety in high rise residential buildings came to the fore across the UK.
Leaseholders are in a particularly difficult situation, facing the prospect of having to pay large sums of money to correct failures which would’ve passed building inspections at the time; one of the high profile examples in Wales is a stone’s throw away from the Senedd at Celestia.
David Melding accused some developers of lacking moral courage:
“….it is true that some builders and developers have acted responsibly and entered into a partnership with leaseholders and Government to rectify the faults that made buildings unsafe; others, however, are avoiding their obligations, at least their moral ones, or awaiting the outcome of legal proceedings; and some are playing the game of drawing out legal proceedings, knowing how vulnerable the leaseholders in these apartments are.”
– David Melding MS
In England, £1billion has been made available via a building safety fund. Alongside recent moves to provide low-interest loans to tenants in Wales facing rent arrears because of Covid-19, it would be “an intelligent offer” for a building safety fund to happen in Wales.
Praising the Minister’s leadership and innovation in some aspects of her portfolio, David Melding couldn’t help but express disappointment on this particular area.
Mike Hedges MS (Lab, Swansea East) criticised the whole concept of “feudal” leaseholds and support moves to co-operative ownership, while Jenny Rathbone MS (Lab, Cardiff Central) was shocked the UK House of Commons recently voted down a proposal to implement the Grenfell Inquiry’s Phase 1 recommendations in full.
Financial support not ruled out, but concerns over the impact on equity
Minister for Housing & Local Government, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West), accepted there were serious issues with leaseholds and welcomed a push to reform them – but that’ll take time.
On the wide issue of financial support and rectifying problems, there were three main issues: fire-proofing the building itself, sorting out the difficulties surrounding leaseholds and management companies and protecting the equity for people in this situation through no fault of their own.
“We’re carefully watching the UK fund. They haven’t spent very much of it yet, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens. I fear that it’s going to take the equity away from the leaseholders, that’s the truth. So we’ll see, but I have a lot of sympathy for the people. So, we are very much looking at it. We haven’t stepped over it yet because I haven’t got a solution that I think does the thing that people want.”
– Minister for Housing & Local Government, Julie James
A white paper on fire safety is set to be published before the next election, but there isn’t enough time left – due to the pandemic – to introduce a new fire safety law.