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Politics

MPs reject plan to protect leaseholders from fire safety costs, despite bishop's plea

by Cara Bentley

The Fire Safety Bill has passed, meaning buildings will have to be made safe, but an amendment that sought to make sure those living in them would not have to foot the bill has been rejected in a vote of 322 to 256, although 32 Conservatives rebelled. 

Even though many in the House of Lords, including bishops, suggested protecting tenants and leaseholders from the costs of repairing buildings which are currently a fire risk, MPs voted down the idea. 

 

The reason given was: "Because the issue of remediation costs is too complex to be dealt with in the manner proposed."

The bill had gone back and forth between the House of Commons and the House of Lords as Parliament debated aspects of the bill and who will pay for these costs. 

Before it was passed, the Bishop of St Albans gave a speech in the House of Lords, saying that more and more stories are coming out, detailing people who live in dangerous high-rise buildings who are suffering acute stress because they cannot sell and are stuck with the cost of making the property safe. 

Rt Rev Dr Alan Smith said he even received an email from someone who works in Parliament: "She emailed me at 3.56 pm and asked if I will speak up. She said, 'Will you speak up for the leaseholders again and table an amendment? I bought a flat under the shared ownership scheme. I own a 25 per cent share, yet I am liable for 100 per cent of the costs. I am already paying an additional amount each month, and I know this amount will soon increase as further remediation work takes place. I simply cannot afford to pay for the remediation works, nor should I have to. The stress of this situation is becoming intolerable. My mental and physical health are approaching a state of collapse. Will you speak up?', she said. I have not met her yet - I hope she will say hello to me one day...This is someone who we bump into, who works in this place and who serves us."

Christian and Lib Dem MP Tim Farron also spoke in the debate when it came to the House of Commons: "This is a Britain, it would appear, where innocent house holders have to pay to remove dangerous cladding while somebody else pays for the Prime Minister's new curtains. Madame Deputy Speaker, we believe in a better Britain where there is justice, not crushing, undeserved debt so if we do not win today, then for the sake of leaseholders across this country - we will be back."

£5 billion of Government funding has been given to remove cladding form the most dangerous high-rise flats. 

The Government wanted to pass it before the end of the parliamentary session on Thursday and said it wanted to strike: "the right balance in protecting leaseholders and being fair to taxpayers".

Survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster have condemned the bill and called it "indefensible".

The Bishop of Kensington, whose community encompasses the Grenfell Tower, wrote: "Very disappointed at the Government's decision last night not to act immediately to protect leaseholders living in unsafe homes, or to commit to implementing mechanisms for reclaiming the costs of remediating unsafe buildings."

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