By Harry Scoffin
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick was told to “get out of his ivory tower” and help millions of cladding victims in an extraordinary broadside by party colleague Stephen McPartland in the Commons today.
The Tory backbencher criticised Mr Jenrick for his “shocking betrayal” of flat owners in blocks of all heights condemned to unsafe and valueless flats, including shared ownership tenants with a 10% slither of equity facing 100% of remediation bills.
Taking to the despatch box looking perturbed, the secretary of state said he did not agree with Mr McPartland’s remarks, but conceded there “is of course more that we could do. This is one of the most challenging and difficult issues faced by the government today or indeed any government, built up over many generations”.
Mr McPartland, the Conservative MP for Stevenage, last year successfully challenged Long Harbour, a £1.8bn freehold investment company founded by the aristocratic half brother-in-law to former prime minister David Cameron, to remove onerous doubling ground rents from the shared ownership leases of key workers on one site in his constituency.
His cladding intervention heaps pressure on the Communities Secretary to commit to a more comprehensive package of support than the £1.6bn already pledged, which covers only a third of total costs according to the government’s own estimates.
The unexpected nature and severity of the blue-on-blue attack – Mr McPartland has not formally endorsed the joint Sunday Times / Inside Housing “Hidden Housing Scandal” campaign – also suggests Tory discipline is breaking down in the parliamentary party.
It comes following an interview with The Guardian on Sunday where the Communities Secretary hinted at more financial aid for affected residents, saying he would be lobbying the Treasury to help those in “an appalling situation” in the latest spending round.
Britain must return to a spirit of “national togetherness” and grassroots volunteering, the communities secretary has said, as Boris Johnson admitted the public was furious at the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
MPs also heard that the government is studying all four Law Commission reports “in which”, Mr Jenrick affirmed, “we intend to right the wrongs of leasehold as quickly as possible”.
They are by far the most supportive comments made by the Communities Secretary since the body went live with its “route out of leasehold” reform proposals in July.