Gove accuses building owner of failing residents over fire-safety works

Michael Gove has accused a building owner – and one of the country’s biggest pension funds – of failing in its duties to fix “life-critical” fire risks on 10 properties, it has been reported.

According to the Times, the housing and communities secretary wrote to the chief executive of the Railways Pension Scheme (Railpen), accusing it of making residents “suffer” and expressing “severe” disappointment at the pace at which it is planning to remediate the buildings.

It is the third intervention against companies involved in building and fire-safety works made by Gove in the past fortnight.

On Friday, Construction News reported that he said cladding supplier Arconic could expect “commercial consequences” if it did not commit to the costs of remediating unsafe buildings. Earlier in the week, he wrote a similar letter to insulation manufacturer Kingspan.

He has also threatened a number of housebuilders and mixed-use developers with being barred from government projects if they did not sign up to a contract to remediate buildings.

Railpen, which owns £37bn in assets, bought 10 properties in 2018 as a long-term investment with a guaranteed income from ground rent collected via its subsidiary, Grey GR. The company that originally developed the buildings has since gone into administration, according to the Times.

It has issued residents in the buildings demands for as much as £200,000 per flat to pay for work to fix fire-safety defects.

Among these are the Vista Tower in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, which was set to be the subject of legal action announced by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities in October. At the time, the department gave Grey GR 21 days to commit to remediating fire-safety defects or face the action.

However, a government source is quoted in the Times as warning that the legal process could take years. “It would be much better if Railpen lived up to its responsibilities rather than being forced by the courts to do so,” they said.

The company said the work is “a complex, staged process” and works are already underway. It added that it “continues to work with the government’s own teams to progress the scope and programme of these works alongside grant-funding access”.

Gove is reported to have written: “I continue to be severely disappointed in Railpen’s performance of its duties to those who live in the buildings on its asset book, and in the oversight and governance of its board.”

He added that leaseholders will have been waiting for six years for work to take place by the time it is due to start next year. “This is not acceptable,” he said.

A Grey GR spokesperson said it “is fully committed to ensuring the safety of residents and addressing building-safety issues”.

“While we were not involved in the design or development of these buildings, we have reiterated our intent to remediate properties,” they added.

“We have been clear on this with government departments throughout our historic engagement with them, along with our ongoing discussions to resolve outstanding issues relating to the implementation of the Building Safety Fund, which is a crucial factor in pushing forward with remediation of the properties.”

Elsewhere, all but four of the homebuilders and mixed-use developers told to sign up to Gove’s remediation contract have now done so. Emerson Developments, Inland Homes and Galliard Group have all recently signed the document.

Abbey Developments, Avant, Dandara and Rydon Homes, which had pledged to take responsibility for addressing all necessary works on their tall buildings and reimburse the taxpayer for funds spent on this already, have not signed the contract.

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