London mayor has written to the housing secretary over flats rendered unsellable by fire safety issues
London mayor Sadiq Khan has raised "grave concerns" about with the External Wall Review (EWS1) process, saying concerns over the safety of residential tower blocks in the wake of the Grenfell fire had seen the market for leasehold flats grind to a halt.
In a letter to housing secretary Robert Jenrick (see below) Khan said urgent government action was needed to help the thousands of residents living in potentially unsafe buildings, who are unable to seel their homes.
Khan said: "Leaseholders waiting for an EWS1 form confirming their block complies with government guidance on the safety of external walls are facing mental health problems, overcrowding, missed employment opportunities, and financial pressure.
"It is estimated that at least 600,000 leaseholders nationwide are currently in limbo, and this number will keep growing. In the current context, it will take years to certify this number of buildings as safe."
He said this issue was disproportionately affecting Londoners as it has 63% of the high-rise buildings in England, and 55% of its housing stock is flats/maisonettes compared to 23% in England.
Khan said: "The shortage of competent professionals to inspect the safety of external walls has resulted in severe delays and reports of fake EWS1 forms from unqualified sources, further adding to leaseholders’ stress and financial pressure."
The mayor said there were five steps that needed to tackle this issue.
He said: "The government must act with urgency to find a long-term funding solution for external wall remediation which protects leaseholders, with government fully funding remediation costs if necessary, where cost recovery from those responsible for the defective works is not successful or possible.
"In place of the EWS1 form, the government must establish a much more comprehensive method for tracking and enforcing building owners’ responsibility to inspect and, if necessary, remediate their external walls."
Khan said it was imperative these steps were implemented as soon as possible to make sure the measures introduced to support the housing market’s recovery from covid-19 were not wasted.
- The government must act with urgency to find a long-term funding solution for external wall remediation which protects leaseholders, with government fully funding remediation costs if necessary, where cost recovery from those responsible for the defective works is not successful or possible. An immediate funding solution for every building will give sellers, purchasers and lenders confidence in the market. Indemnifying lenders against loss may unlock lending, but it will not give purchasers or existing leaseholders any protection.
- With the market unlocked, the need for EWS1 forms would be removed. In place of the EWS1 form, the government must establish a much more comprehensive method for tracking and enforcing building owners’ responsibility to inspect and, if necessary, remediate their external walls. It is clear from recent experience that guidance must be backed up by oversight and intervention, which the EWS1 form has inadvertently provided.
- While the EWS1 form is still in use, greater clarity is needed on which buildings require an EWS1 form and which do not. The government should work with industry to publish guidance for lenders and leaseholders which sets this out.
- The government should set up a training and accreditation programme to vastly increase the number of competent professionals that can carry out safety inspections of external walls. This will take time to establish but will be essential in making the new building safety regime a success in the future. In the short-term, this programme should focus on upskilling existing professionals in the sector to specialise in the safety of external wall systems.
- The government must work with the insurance industry to ensure there are clear standards of professional competence to build confidence in providing appropriate PI cover for those with the appropriate qualifications and experience to work on external wall safety.
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