Siding talks hit a wall as devs attack ‘Marxist’ demands Business

The blaze that ripped through a tower block in London last week has forced Britons to get acquainted with what has become a more familiar sight in recent years.

Crawford Building in Whitechapel was evacuated and more than 100 firefighters were called to the scene. Although no fatalities were recorded and the incident was unrelated to the surfacing, it sparked memories of the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster – and concerns about the urgency of safety improvements being made in its wake.

Liam Spender, an activist with campaign group End Our Cladding Scandal, hopes images of smoke billowing from another skyscraper will speed up ongoing talks between developers and the government.

“The longer it goes on, the more people suffer from wakefulness, increased insurance, and the inability to sell their house,” he says. “This is a problem that is getting worse by the hour. We need to wrap this up soon, so people can get on with their lives.”

With the end of March deadline fast approaching, pressure is high for a solution to be found on the resurfacing between developers and Housing Secretary Michael Gove. Sources say it could happen as early as next week.

But, despite a cooling of hostilities between the two camps, points of friction remain in the negotiations underway since the end of January.

A key issue is the government’s cost estimate of remediation plans, disputed by homebuilders.

Last month the Homebuilders Federation hired PwC to carry out its own audit of homes with cladding issues across Britain, in response to government claims of costs in excess of £4billion to remedy to the coating of medium-sized buildings.

The sources involved say PwC’s final cost projections are likely to be less than £1billion, with a tenth the number of homes in need of rehabilitation than official estimates.

Linklaters lawyers have also been recruited by the Federation of Home Builders, to fight what developers see as Mr Gove’s attempts to heavily weaponize the industry to cover all remediation costs.

Persimmon has also sought legal advice from Lord Pannick QC, reports say, following Mr Gove’s threats to stop UK builders from trading and to block planning permissions for those who had not done enough work sanitation.

Persimmon boss Dean Finch wrote to the Leveling Up department last month to voice the concerns, saying Lord Pannick believed the threats were unlawful.

A negotiator on the homebuilding side said: ‘Government data is rubbish – which is a big cause of the delay. The number of buildings affected and the overall cost of the remediation is far greater than the number we expect to see after speaking with people in the industry.”

“Gove always says [he needs] solutions by the end of March, and given the lack of detail we’ve been working on, that’s a huge ask.

The developers are keen to make it clear that although Mr Gove rejected their latest offer – to only cover their own costs on the condition that they “no longer appeal to our members regarding these issues” – the tone has improved markedly.

Yet their accountants and lawyers represent an organized opposition against the perceived strong weaponry.

Whitehall’s language in early January argued that “polluters must pay”, referring to how any developers who caused coating problems must fix them. This, however, was quickly replaced with “those with the broadest shoulders should carry the heaviest load”, as it became clear how difficult it would be to chase away foreign builders with no footprint left in the UK. .

The developers responded furiously with one executive in January describing its approach as “Marxist”.

He added: “He didn’t threaten to kill my children, but everything else was on the table. You wouldn’t expect Shell to bear the costs of a BP oil spill.

“We have no problem cleaning up our own mess, and we pay the extra tax on top of that, but that’s yet another request.”

The position of homebuilders remained relatively united throughout, with Persimmon being one of the only examples of a slight underdog among them. Still rebuilding its reputation after the cover of Jeff Fairburn’s controversial £75m bonus, the developer has taken a softer stance on Whitehall to limit any further damage.

“They’re already from Fairburn and reputational issues there, and they don’t have as much exposure to the coating given they rarely build above 11m,” said a developer executive. rival. “It’s abundantly clear that they’re in a different set of circumstances than Berkeley.” Berkeley almost exclusively builds developments above 11m and is more exposed to remediation.

As negotiations continue, insiders say the talks have become mired in disputes over details and data.

The recent counter-offer to Mr Gove was made by outgoing Taylor Wimpey executive Pete Redfern, who alongside Persimmon’s Finch is seen as open to engaging in further talks. Despite its rejection, the offer was welcomed as constructive by the officials concerned.

As relations between the two sides begin to normalize and seem more likely to reach an agreement in the future, homebuilders remain frustrated with the government’s lack of attention to other industries involved.

In a recent report, Clive Betts, the chair of the Leveling Up Select Committee, said: “Government should look beyond developers and manufacturers to contribute to the costs of solving the building security crisis.

“We recommend that the government identify all affected parties who have played a role in this crisis, such as product suppliers, installers, contractors and subcontractors, and legally oblige them to pay for the repair of the individual faults and to ensure that they also contribute to collective funding for building safety. remediation. »

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This notice was published: 2022-03-13 06:00:00

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