Leasehold reform and Fire safety rally on 15 July

 

 

The National Leasehold Campaign and the United Kingdom Cladding Action Group have called a rally on Thursday 15 July outside Parliament at 12.15pm. The purpose of the rally is to push the Government further down the road to abolishing the leasehold system and to highlight the failure of the Government to deal effectively with the fire safety issue.

 

This rally should be supported by the wider Labour Movement as:

  • Four years to the day after the Grenfell tragedy the Government still does not know how many buildings in England are dangerous. It is apparent that there is a wider problem of building standards, not just in high rise properties. (co.uk/fire-safety/2021/02/03/the-campaign-to-improve-all-types-of-building-safety/).
  • Virtually all of the English-speaking world has replaced the feudal English leasehold system with a modern system that allows the flat residents to own their own flat and a share of the building as a whole. English leaseholders only own the right to live in their flat for a period of time. Commonhold is a new form of freehold tenure introduced in 2002 by Labour; leaseholders would own their own flat and a share of the building as a whole. There would be no third-party involvement. The maintenance of the block would therefore be cheaper.
  • The Government is slowly moving to enact the Law Commission proposals to implement crucial changes to leasehold system due to political pressure from progressive forces outside of Parliament. They need to be encouraged to make sure that they do not retreat from this route.
  • There are over 4 million leaseholders in England who often live in marginal Parliamentary seats in the North of England and London. (co.uk/campaign-news/2021/01/27/winning-elections-leasehold-reform-and-the-co-op-party/ ) Their housing problems are not often discussed in progressive circles. For an exception see https://gov.wales/research-sale-and-use-leaseholds-wales.   Owner occupiers have tended to give their votes to the Conservatives. Labour needs more votes if it is ever to win another general election again.
  • The Government has set up a building fund that will deal only with cladding issues in blocks over 18 metres in height. For medium rise blocks loans will be available however the crucial details of how this scheme will work have not yet been released.
  • In London there are approximately 600 blocks that have expensive interim fire safety measures or waking watches in place. These are very expensive, and leaseholders will face even more bills when the major remediation works take place.
  • The Conservatives have said repeatedly that leaseholders will not have to pay for fire safety costs when all the indications are to the contrary. The leasehold movement has started to mobilise with the first series of national demonstrations that took place on 5 June. Leaseholders are being made to pay for the failure of the Government to regulate the building industry properly. Leaseholders are being made bankrupt to pay for highly expensive bills: if they work for the police force or as a lawyer, they will lose their job as well.

 

 

The current leasehold system is not climate change friendly. If leaseholders wish to install charging points for electric cars, install heating pumps or solar pumps, they will have to obtain permission from the freeholder. Some leases allow the freeholder to charge for such permission. The Government has recently allowed freeholders to build two extra stories on certain buildings without planning permission who may prefer to build higher than installing solar panels. See //urbanistarchitecture.co.uk/upward-extension/.

 

The Government will shortly be introducing the Building Safety Bill into Parliament as its response to the Grenfell fire.  There are measures in the bill to improve building safety in general that are supported. However, the bill imposes onerous obligations on leaseholders to pay for historic fire safety bills. These bills must be paid within 28 days. For a critical discussion of the draft Building Safety Bill by the all-party House of Commons Select Committee on Housing see getcommonholddone.co.uk/commonhold/2020/11/24/house-of-commons-committee-examines-the-draft-building-safety-bill/.

 

A new Homes Ombudsman is proposed with a building code. There will be a building safety council to be chaired by a Tory MP and stuffed full of industry representatives. This measure will only come into force once the bill becomes law and will not apply retrospectively. The Government has rejected a move to extend the limitation period of the Defective Premises Act 1972; often building defects do not become apparent until several years later. For a legal discussion see youtu.be/WhWymyyzeDg

 

Leaseholders living in unsafe blocks have recently started to demonstrate with a series of demonstrations across England on 6 June. There will be more to follow. See youtu.be/bd30JLLpUO4. Leaseholders believe that it is the connections between the Conservative Party and developers that is driving Government policy .( www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/jun/11/property-developers-gave-tories-891000-in-first-quarter-of-2021 )

 

The Opposition in Parliament have correctly highlighted this issue. In Australia where the strata title has replaced the leasehold system, two state authorities have set up organisations to find out the extent of the problem, make sure that the work is done and then to pursue those responsible for the costs. For more details see  www.leaseholdknowledge.com/government-use-of-extra-statutory-powers-has-made-the-cladding-crisis-far-worse-than-in-australia-or-possibly-scotland-writes-lkp-trustee/.

If we want the Government to adopt this solution, progressive opinion must mobilise across the county for the rally on 15 July and the Labour Party must be seen to be actively supporting the innocent victims of misguided Government policy.

 

Dermot Mckibbin

Beckenham Labour Party.

14 June 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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