In Focus

UK builders: drawing a line under the cladding crisis?

Michael Gove’s threat to builders may be paying off

Britain has had no fewer than four secretaries of state for housing since June 2017 when a devastating fire, fuelled by flammable cladding, ripped through Grenfell Tower in west London, said Emma Haslett in the New Statesman. In February the latest incumbent, Michael Gove, effectively gave builders an ultimatum: “pay for your cladding mistakes or face my wrath”. 

The threat seems to have been singularly successful, said Nils Pratley in The Guardian. “Fifty-three developers were invited, on pain of being cut out of planning approvals, to sign a building safety pledge”, committing them to funding the remediation of defective cladding throughout the country. By last week’s deadline, all the big players were on board. 

That doesn’t mean they’re happy, said Ben Gartside in The Sunday Telegraph. Indeed, Gove stands accused of taking a “wrecking ball” to bottom lines. As one analyst notes, Bellway and Redrow have “signed away provisions worth half of annual pre-tax profits”, when they’re already facing big input costs and are “highly exposed” to a potential downturn in the housing market. No wonder they’re digging in to avoid being whacked by the “next stage of negotiations” to increase the pot to £4bn. 

Public sympathy is likely to be limited, said Lex in the FT. Persimmon’s £75m bill, for instance, is the same amount it paid former boss Jeff Fairburn as a leaving bonus. Still, there must come a point at which the remaining costs are “spread more widely”, said Nils Pratley in The Guardian. The tally for “orphan” buildings (mid-rise blocks built by foreign or defunct firms), or those on which “local authorities may have installed defective cladding after construction”, could be as high as £3bn. UK developers might reasonably ask “how hard Gove is trying to trace and chase” those responsible. 

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