By Harry Scoffin
LBC’s Nick Ferrari clashed yesterday with Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick over “leaving people in fire traps” while launching a £12 billion taxpayer-backed house-building spree.
The Communities Secretary was accused of having a “very strange set of priorities” on the breakfast show, which attracts 1.5 million listeners.
Mr Ferrari said:
“This is what I don’t understand. The government estimate is that it takes £3 billion to remove the cladding. You’ve pledged £1.6bn, but you’ve found £11.5bn or £12bn for this other scheme. Why aren’t you looking after those other people who are in dangerous buildings? Why are you building new homes when there are dangerous ones you haven’t addressed? It seems a very strange set of priorities … You are leaving people in fire traps.”
Mr Jenrick attempted to steer the conversation back to his house-building initiative, but had to address the cladding scandal.
Mr Jenrick agreed that he did not want to see a repeat of the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people in June 2017, but cautioned that the cladding crisis “isn’t just about government investment”.
The Communities Select Committee has estimated that the £1bn Building Safety Fund announced in the Budget in March will cover 600 blocks, a third of the total affected properties.
Mr Jenrick also claimed that a lot of dangerously-clad apartment buildings with Grenfell-style materials “have been funded through warranty claims [and] through the developers themselves”.
He told Mr Ferrari that he was wrong to suggest that developers were refusing to pay to remediate unsafe high-rises.
LKP has referenced many of these sites, which are a minority of the total.
The heated exchange can be viewed in full here:
When asked whether he had met with cladding victims recently, Mr Jenrick cited his highly publicised pre-pandemic trip to New Capital Quay in Greenwich, a scheme that is only being remediated – and paid for – by Galliard / NHBC after residents threatened legal action.
LKP invited New Capital Quay leaseholders to address the All Party Parliamentary Group in and the issue obtained widespread negative media attention.
Mr Jenrick said he had been following LBC’s extensive coverage of the post-Grenfell building safety crisis and listened to the stories of impacted callers, with whom he had “great empathy”.
“There are very large numbers of people who have done the right thing, have purchased a property, it was their dream to do so and then they found they have a property which either has some cladding which needs to be removed, or it may not do but they have struggled to sell the property because they don’t have the form that’s been created or they’re struggling to get hold of a form that has been created by the industry which will enable them to do so. We are working with the industry to resolve [the issue]. This is a complex and difficult challenge.”
Speaking to LBC correspondent Rachael Venables after the interview, Natasha, a leaseholder in Southampton’s Empire View development, which was described as covered in the combustible high pressure laminate (HPL) material, was distinctly unimpressed by Mr Jenrick’s performance:
“Absolutely offensive. Robert Jenrick continues to fund and keep pumping money into the developers, leaving us in a state of absolute misery. £1.6bn is not sufficient by any assessment of the problem. It is a minimum of £3bn, up to £30bn. It just isn’t enough.”
She concluded her remarks by saying Mr Jenrick has failed to take action against developers and still refuses to acknowledge that flawed government regulations led to the crisis in building safety.
LBC heard from another caller, Ed from Mile End, east London, who said he has a 40% stake in his housing association flat which is less than eight years old and has cladding, combustible insulation “and maybe a couple of other issues”.
Facing bankruptcy, and set to pay 100% of remediation costs, he queried whether Mr Jenrick was presiding over the creation of yet more dangerous flats:
“I am just deeply worried how he is going to reassure us that the new flats they are going to build are going to be safe. I think they really need to be concentrating on cleaning up the mess they’ve already created.”
LBC presenter Maajid Nawaz was told by Sarah, from Guildford, Surrey, that the Communities Secretary was guilty of “ignorant garble” in his interview with Nick Ferrari. Mr Jenrick, she said, “has gone out today with his lovely graphics on Twitter saying he’s spending all this money on new housing, yet there’s this severe crisis already in place”.
Sarah said she is a shared owner with 50% equity and is being prevented from sub-letting her flat by the housing association.
Another caller rang in to say “we cannot allow this to happen, where the government is using our money and putting it in the wrong places” and argued that the cladding crisis transcends individuals’ personal problems.
“We need to put these people, who are living in dangerous homes, first. So whether it’s you, me, the media, whoever, all the people listening, we need to fix this. They need to prioritise these homes that have got dangerous cladding regardless, because I am telling you now – God forbid – another Grenfell happens, we will all be as guilty as the government,” said Colette, who lost a friend at Grenfell.
“We can’t wait for the next election, Maajid, for someone else to come in … So when they talk about what they’re going to do with our money, because remember this is our money, we cannot let them say ‘Oh, we’re going to build new houses.’ This is not China where the government tell you what they’re going to do and you have no choice. We have a choice, and we have a voice here … It’s not fair on these people, they shouldn’t have to live like this.”