Michael Gove has announced that the government is to pause the loan scheme plans for leaseholders who are facing building safety costs.
Unveiled by former Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, the loans would be for those who are living in buildings under 18m and would have seen leaseholders pay £50 per month toward remediation costs.
Speaking at his first Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, Gove said: “I’m still unhappy with the principle of leaseholders having to pay at all, no matter how effective a scheme might be in capping their costs or not hitting them too hard at any one time.
“My questions is why do they have to pay at all?”
He called leaseholders “innocent parties in this” and added: “We have a responsibility to relieve some of the obligations faced by leaseholders at the moment, who are innocent parties in this and who are being in many cases asked to pay disproportionate sums when there are individuals in business – some still in business – who are guilty men and women.”
Asked about waking watch, the new Housing Secretary called them “a rip-off”.
He added: “I think there have been some organisations and individuals who, instead of making themselves part of the solution, have seen an opportunity to make money for themselves.”
Asked about the government’s role in the crisis, he said government “failed people at Grenfell” and that many didn’t learn the lessons from Lakanal House fire.
He said: “We collectively – the department, some in local government, others in the private sector – failed people at Grenfell and there are people who were and still are in buildings where there is a significant risk.”
He added that the Grenfell Tower Inquiry will find that the department “will be seen to have, on a couple of occasions, not necessarily appreciated the importance of fire safety and not necessarily done everything in the wake of the Lakanal House tragedy that it should have done.”
And in a shift in tone, Gove also criticised developers for their part in the crisis, saying many “placed cost reduction ahead of safety” and called some “cowboys.”
He said: “The sheriff or sheriffs might not have been on the ball, but the cowboys were behaving like cowboys in an unregulated way.
“It would seem to me that developers and construction product manufacturers, if they say that they are squeaky clean, they’re wrong.
“What we have seen so far from the inquiry, it would seem to me that at the very least developers have to ask whether or not they were engaging in, quotes, ‘value engineering’, in other words seeking to reduce costs in a way which not just with the benefit of hindsight but at the time people would have known was putting cost reduction ahead of safety.”
Campaigners responded with “cautious optimism” to the comments.
Responding, the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign group said: “Mr Gove’s comment on pausing the forced loans scheme is a step in the right direction; however, we must see this unfair attempt at a solution consigned to history rather than simply paused.”
They also pointed to the fact that there have been four different Secretary of States in four years, and that all have “broken promises” on building safety.
They added: “Simply put, Mr Gove’s words must now be the beginning of the end of our cladding scandal and not only the end of the beginning.”