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Nobody can dispute that the rhetoric was strong from Michael Gove, the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary, in his Commons statement yesterday on building safety.

At one stage he sounded like Rambo:

“We are coming for you.”

At other times, the class war message was more in the spirit of Dave Spart:

“…companies making vast profits off the hook….”

“They exhibit the unacceptable face of capitalism…”

“By any means necessary….”

The issue was the cost of removing cladding from blocks of flats, and other measures to make them safe. Who should pay the bill?

There now seems to be general acceptance that, as leaseholders are blameless, it would be unfair for them to pay. That still leaves a lot of detail to work through. Will the promised “statutory protection” apply just to resident leaseholders or also include those leaseholders who rent their flats out? Will leaseholders get back the money they have already paid? How long before it is all resolved? For many of the leaseholders the delay – being caught in properties that are deemed unsafe and thus impossible to sell – has been as much of a problem as the threat of being stung with a huge bill.

So if the leaseholders are not to blame then who is? Gove suggests it must be the developers and demands that “ultimately, those with big balance sheets and big bucks discharge their responsibility.” He adds “that the seven major housing developers do much good work but that in the last three years they made profits of £16 billion.”

This notion of collective guilt is disturbing. Why should all firms be punished if only some of them have failed to maintain proper standards? The culprits should be held to account, but simply being large or profitable is not proof of wrongdoing.

Two different points are being conflated. It is true that a small number of property developers are making excessive profits. That is due to a lack of competition as we don’t have a proper housing market. I have written previously about how the onerous planning system has driven smaller developers out of business. The constraint on supply has also meant prices have tended to rise sharply between the developer buying the land and completed homes being sold.

Gove spoke out at those who “cut corners to save cash” and “sought to profiteer”. But his remedy will hit some developers who build few, if any, blocks of flats. It will also be applied to those who followed the regulations in force at the time of construction.

That would mean we are primarily dealing with a regulatory failing rather than a corporate failing. Nor is it true that this has necessarily been a matter of low regulation. For many years the regulation has been very extensive and costly to comply with. The difficulty has been that all that red tape has been defective – with tragic consequences in Grenfell and elsewhere.

Where firms have broken the law they should face the consequences. This should apply to all – whether they are private property developers, those who produced the materials, the contractors, freehold management companies, housing associations and local authorities. Sometimes mounting a legal challenge can be expensive and daunting. This is something the Government should be willing to undertake or assist with. It is very welcome that the Government is bringing in amendments to the Building Safety Bill “to extend the right of leaseholders to challenge those who cause defects in premises for up to 30 years retrospectively.” Perhaps one day there will be the equivalent of the Nuremberg trials for those who carried out construction of tower blocks in a reckless manner.

But if no law was broken there is no legal remedy. That leaves politicians such as Gove with the “bully pulpit” – as used by Barack Obama among others. That is to denounce and thus inflict reputational damage on those who refuse to take a course favoured by the Government. It can also warn the industry that if it doesn’t comply then it will face further tax rises or loss of subsidies and state contracts.

Many in the building industry will be exasperated by the tone of these threats – whether they materialise or not. They do not generally set out to make extra money by producing homes on the cheap by allowing their occupants to be burnt alive. Apart from moral considerations, such practice might not prove to be a good business model. Taylor Wimpey, for example, has already stumped up money to remove cladding on its buildings despite claiming it has no liability to do so.

Spare a thought in all this for Gove’s predecessor, Robert Jenrick. Jenrick is a lawyer and a former Treasury Minister. He worked hard on all the detail but was thwarted when it came to the political clout required to get the necessary funding. He made some progress – as did his predecessors at the Department, James Brockenshire and Sajid Javid. But it was not enough. In some ways, the protection for those in high rise properties prompted more indignation for those in mid-rise blocks getting no help. It is certainly arbitrary that those in a block of flats 59 feet tall pay nothing but those in a block a few inches shorter get stung. Though Rishi Sunak was more sympathetic as Chancellor than Philip Hammond the indignation continued, understandably so.

Apart from the question of who should pay for the costs there is also the importance of preventing the sum involved being extortionate. Here there were some welcome comments from Gove. He acknowledged the “dreadful misuse” of “waking watches” – the ineffective and hugely expensive arrangement of employing patrols to warn residents if a fire is taking place. A greater role is being given for sprinklers as a more cost effective method of mitigating fire risk than other measures. Joy Morrisey, the MP for Beaconsfield, told Gove she was “perplexed” they were not routinely required in blocks of flats. He replied she was “absolutely right.” The evidence has shown that sprinklers would be far more effective than removing cladding or all the other safety improvements combined.

So there is rough justice in the Government’s approach. It is likely that the extra money will not all be offered by the developers. Thus there will be the prospect of more tax. Some foreign-based companies, that are responsible for defective buildings, will not be liable. Nor will those that have long since ceased trading. We are already due to have the Residential Property Developer Tax – which will impose extra tax on large firms. Also another development tax that will apply to all property developers. That will involve some injustice – even if they can well afford to pay. But, at least, the nightmare to leaseholders facing a far more serious injustice is being lifted.