Julie James MS, Minister for Housing and Local Government
Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government, announced funding to address unsafe cladding in England last week. I wrote to Robert Jenrick to express my disappointment that the Welsh Government had not been engaged prior to this announcement. This was particularly disappointing given how closely we are working with the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government on a number of areas of their draft Building Safety Bill.
I have urgently requested details of all aspects of this announcement, which we are still yet to receive. Resolving the cladding crisis will require significant investment and I expect Wales to receive its fair share of funding as result of new spending commitments in England. The amount of any consequential budget allocation is based on how much new money is being released to a UK Government department. That is why we need clarity from our colleagues in Westminster. We have been clear that building safety is a priority for this government and once we have clarity on how much additional funding Wales will receive, Ministers collectively will decide on how that funding is used.
In Wales we are investing an initial £42.5m in remediation of high rise buildings. I have already announced £10.5m available in this financial year to the social sector to fund remediation, this funding will see 12 buildings accessing support. The draft budget has also set aside £32m for further remediation of buildings next year.
As I have already set out, our intention is to establish a funding offer for Wales that goes further than that proposed in England. As residents in high rise buildings know, addressing only the issues of cladding does not go far not enough. Our fund will also ensure that building defects in relation to compartmentation and fire breaks are addressed. Importantly it will also fund fire suppression systems (sprinklers) and fire evacuation sounders, where these are appropriate. The Joint Inspection Team that we are working with partners to establish this autumn will be key to helping identify which buildings need work and the nature of that work. We will provide further details on the funding offer and how to access it as soon as we can.
This is a complex area. Whilst we are rightly progressing many matters on a devolved basis we recognise there is real merit in working on a cross Government basis on some of these welcome proposals. I hope that the UK Government will warmly welcome our offer to work collaboratively with them. There are also matters that can only be taken forward by the UK Government.
Therefore, I look forward to receiving more detail on the proposed House Builders’ Tax and it is important we are able to work with the UK Government to ensure this tax meets the needs of leaseholders in Wales.
It is notable that while the UK Government announces new property development tax measures without any prior engagement, we are unable to make progress with the UK Government on the devolution of further tax powers to Wales to allow the introduction of a Vacant Land Tax to support the property development agenda in Wales. It highlights the need to urgently reform these arrangements.
We wish to explore the proposed Gateway 2 levy with Whitehall counterparts. Whilst it is possible to proceed on a devolved basis with a levy it is clear that there is far greater merit in proceeding with this on an England and Wales basis.
We are already working closely with MHCLG on aspects of the draft Building Safety Bill which will apply in Wales, ahead of legislation being brought forward to the Senedd in the next term of Government. My recent Building Safety White Paper sets out our proposals for comprehensive reform in relation to building safety for all multi-occupied residential buildings in Wales. I hope that we continue to move forward constructively on this work incorporating where necessary some of the plans announced yesterday for Wales too.
The progress made with regards to the EWS1 form process is positive and I hope will see positive movement for leaseholders to help them remortgage and sell their properties. We continue to work with MHCLG and RICS on this issue.
Leaseholders did not create the issues that have been identified and it is right that those who created these problems pay for their mistakes.
I am clear that the remediation of unsafe high rise buildings is a priority for me and for this Government. An imperative in fact, if we are to ensure that people are safe in their homes.