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The Building Safety Levy: The End of the Beginning?

21 April 2022

The latest announcement on the Building Safety Levy yesterday is welcome to some, but a very bitter pill for others.

On the 58th month anniversary of the Grenfell Tragedy, we must ask why it has taken so long for this announcement to have finally been made. It is not as simple as merely pointing the finger at the current Government to say it has not acted quickly enough. It gets a B- for not having done enough sooner, sure; a problem exacerbated by a constant shuffling of Housing Ministers and a Government being faced with a problem that has been 20-30 years in the making; but the underlying cause of delay relates to still not truly understanding the extent of the problem. We still do not know how many properties are going to be affected, how many individuals are in danger and the costs of remediating this. There is no quick fix for understanding this.

It is welcome that the Levy has been set up, and the biggest house builders are putting their hands in their pockets to pay out.  But those that are paying, some would argue, in the most serious cases, are the not the cause of the problem.  It is the "cowboy developers" that have left the "orphan buildings" (i.e. – those buildings constructed where developers have gone pop or are overseas and can't be perused) in their wake.  These must be looked at first, and are those that this levy must support.   But more than that, it is the entire industry asleep at the wheel that have caused the problem we are now in.  Lack of oversight, a race to the bottom for pricing, profits over safety and no way of maintaining a golden thread of building information have all led to the current cladding crisis; so why is it the major developers that are being asked to pay for this?

It is also disappointing that the way in which this levy has been brought about was by ransom; "put funds in a pot or we won't let you build".  This blurring of policy and law is perhaps what was needed; but that doesn't necessarily make it feel right.  And what do we say to the developers that are being forced into this position? Go to Heaven if you want justice I suppose.

The Building Safety Bill, and its significant changes to the landscape of how the built environment will now look, is coming.  This will definitely go in some to improving the Golden Thread of information and holding those responsible for building safety accountable.  It just so happens to be coming in at a time of crisis in the professional indemnity market (which is only going to get worse with the 15 year retrospective liability the Bill intends to bring in) and a cost of living crisis.  It is right that homeowners aren't be asked to pay for these problems.  I hope that is universally accepted; but if it wasn't homeowners directly, it would be all of us by virtue of tax.

There is no right answer to this problem; but the recent news is welcome for the many, if not the few.

With money going in to levy, hopefully we can see buildings being made safer, but as we look to the future of the Building Safety Bill, we do so knowing this problem is not going anywhere fast.

For more information on the topic or to speak to a member of our Construction team, please contact David McNeice


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