An article sent to Conservative Home on the 23rd Feb 2021 in advance of the Parliamentary debates on who pays to remediate fire safety to encourage Conservative MP's to support the Stephen McPartland & Royston Smith amendment.
Having quit the Conservative Party in February 2020 over a planning issue I was recently asked if I might re-join.
The immediate answer was no, and the first reason that came into my head was the cladding and fire safety debacle that many of my residents are suffering from (although we still do not know how many people are affected which maybe why the political consequences of this are not yet clear).
The government is now only offering financial help for cladding issues in tall towers not for all of the other fire safety related costs like fire barriers, waking watches, delayed home sales and increased insurance costs which have been caused by the same industrial, planning and regulatory failures as the cladding that failed at Grenfell in June 2017. And if your home is less than 18 meters in height you have to pay for any cladding issues via loans (that financial limit exists because nobody can agree a better definition of a tall building). Delays in resolving this issue have already resulted in some home owners declaring bankruptcy.
As a result it cannot be right that through other people’s failures including those of the government to properly regulate that homeowners have to pay to rectify other people’s mistakes as is still the plan for some categories of buildings, some categories of owners and many fire safety issues. They will also pay VAT or Insurance Premium Tax on these additional costs so government also benefits from this financial pain. That strikes me as profoundly unfair and the recent government announcement has attracted almost universal condemnation.
It is true that many of the affected buildings are in Labour areas like mine but I know many of those people affected, some of them would naturally move away and into safer Conservative around the cities over the long term (assuming they can still afford to do so) and probably have families already there. Some Conservatives have done an excellent job in response to this crisis but it strikes me as an unusual decision to inflict financial pain on a category of people who would normally support you electorally rather than developers and other parts of the building industry.
As a reminder according to Ipsos MORI’s figures at the 2019 general election, 57% of voters who owned their home outright voted Conservative, as did 43% of people with mortgages (same % as the Conservative vote share).
This is because the consequences of the fire safety crisis are as much financial as they are the concerns related to building safety and those financial consequences will last decades long after the buildings themselves are made safe.
Failure to resolve this issue will cause political issues for the Conservatives in the coming years, that damage will be at the margins but there will be marginal constituencies which contain affected buildings, or frustrated home-owners or their families who might laugh hollowly if told that the Conservatives are the party of home-owners. I wonder how Labour and the Liberal Democrats will take advantage of this in 2024, because I can hazard a guess.
The additional costs of fixing the cladding and all other historic fire safety issues should come solely from a tax on developer and other industry participants profits. This is not as damaging as some might fear not least because housebuilders have been making good profits in recent years thanks to government schemes like Help to Buy which by 2023 will have helped boost the housing market by £25 billion in loans. According to the Economist magazine property development companies in the UK make twice the operating margins of their peers in America, it is time they took greater responsibility for the problems they caused.
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