Julie James MS, Minister for Climate Change
We have been working hard on our whole building approach to building safety. This involves prioritising the holistic repair of existing medium and high rise buildings, which goes beyond just replacing defective external cladding, alongside fundamental reform of the building safety regime in Wales.
This whole-building approach puts people’s safety first, but is more complex than one which only deals with cladding. It is also more expensive.
I have made £375 million available over the next three years to invest in repair work. This is double the population share of what the UK Government has said it plans to spend in equivalent areas in England in this period. This investment includes the Welsh Building Safety Fund, which is currently focused on helping to clarify the scale of the problem and address fire safety defects in eligible buildings; as well as the development of a Leaseholder Support Scheme; and the establishment of a Joint Inspection Team.
We are still receiving expressions of interest for the Welsh Building Safety Fund and as I set out in my Cabinet Statement of 25 February, the technical experts I appointed have been undertaking survey work on eligible applications into the Scheme.
I am pleased to update that digital surveys have been completed for the first 248 applications. This work has identified over 100 buildings to date where further intrusive surveys are needed. I am also pleased to say that this intrusive survey work has already started. The intrusive surveys will provide a detailed report that identifies the fire safety work needed for these buildings.
This is a really important milestone in the process to remediate the identified fire safety issues, and demonstrates the pace at which we are driving this work forward.
I have always maintained the position that the industry should step-up to their responsibilities. A number of developers have already undertaken works at their own expense. This sets an example to the others that continue to shirk their responsibilities.
I have also said repeatedly that leaseholders should not have to pick up the bill to make good their buildings. I have met many leaseholders and residents affected by the building safety crisis, and have heard firsthand how these issues are impacting their lives. Our development of a Leaseholder Support Scheme, which will target support where it is most needed, is nearing completion. The scheme will help individual leaseholders who cannot sell their properties and find themselves in significant financial hardship, due to escalating costs associated with fire safety issues.
The scheme will allow such leaseholders to sell their property and where appropriate, provide the option for them to either move on or rent the property back. We have worked with partners and sector experts to identify an appropriate route for property valuation, clear eligibility criteria, and to create a comprehensive property purchase process. My officials continue to progress this work at pace to enable the first applications to be invited in June this year.
In a further step to improve building safety, we are progressing with partners the establishment of a Joint Inspection Team in Wales. This multi-disciplinary team will work in partnership with Local Authorities and Fire and Rescue Authorities. We are prioritising the recruitment of the Strategic Lead for the Joint Inspection Team, and I anticipate that the successful candidate will be in post in the summer. This role will be vital to refine the detailed working arrangements for the formal establishment of the full team later this year.
I fully appreciate that for those living in affected buildings we do not seem to be working fast enough, but I must stress that we are taking every opportunity to progress our wider Building Safety Programme. This includes developing UK-wide solutions where this approach aligns with our policy intent and vision as set out in our White Paper.
We are working closely with the UK Government to apply aspects of the Building Safety Bill to Wales. This relates specifically to reforms improving the design, construction and renovation of high risk buildings. This means that we have the ability to bring these reforms into place sooner and reap the safety benefits they will bring. Once the Building Safety Bill receives royal assent the task will be to bring forward the necessary regulations to deliver the more robust system that is so clearly necessary.
Alongside the immediate work to remediate medium and high rise buildings we are progressing proposals for a new building safety regime in Wales. I was pleased to note in December the wide-scale support expressed in response to our white paper consultation. We are now focussed on developing the policy detail. We will continue to progress work to strengthen resident voice and place it at the heart of our longer term policy development in this area.
I will also continue to meet with residents and leaseholders affected by the building safety crisis. I want to ensure our building safety reforms are practical and accessible. It is important that people can both see and understand the benefits of reforms that we will deliver in Wales.
I welcome the continued commitment to this agenda from Plaid Cymru and look forward to working in partnership with them on our collective aim, to ensure that our buildings are safe from the outset.