Government unit chasing rogue firms over lack of action on fire safety

A government investigative unit has launched 19 inquiries into firms that have refused to carry out fire-safety works on their properties, the building safety minister has revealed. 

Giving evidence to the Levelling Up committee on Monday (2o March), Lee Rowley said that the Recovery Strategy Unit (RSU) had opened 19 inquiries so far, and it had received information relating to problems at many more properties. 

“[At] the highest level it seeks to identify and pursue the most egregious examples of issues and problems of bad faith acting within the [building] sectors. There are many different leads at the moment: they all need to be triaged, [and] then a series of individual cases [will be] chosen,” Rowley said.

“There are 19 live inquiries at the moment. They [the RSU unit] are building up their capacity, building up their knowledge and experience.

“They are not a casework team, they won’t be able to take every single individual case but the purpose is one: that they will find specific examples to pursue to then demonstrate to the industry that we are willing to do that. And two: hopefully change behaviour on a broader scale for those who haven’t done the right thing.”

The RSU was established in June 2022 to work with other enforcement agencies and pursue firms that repeatedly refuse to pay to fix buildings via “any means necessary”. It formed a central plank of the Building Safety Act and aims to rope in rogue building-owners and developers.

Rowley also said that the government was looking to target rogue freeholders who do not sign up to tackle fire-safety issues within their properties.

Last week the government named 11 firms that hadn’t signed up to a pledge to fix historic building-safety issues. Since then a further three have signed up, including developer Ballymore.

Noting that there were developers and freeholders that had “not stepped up” to tackle fire-safety issues, Rowley said the the government could name and shame those firms in the coming weeks. 

Rowley said: “There is an element of the developer population who have not yet stepped up [and] there is an element of freeholders who are clearly doing unacceptable things in my view. 

“There is an element of managing agents who are advising their freeholders things which in some cases are completely contrary to the Building Safety Act.”

Rowley mentioned his visit to the Cardinal Lofts scheme in Ipswich, which is owned by developer Grey GR, a subsidiary of asset manager Railpen. In October last year the government began legal action against Railpen over the 15-storey Vista Tower.

Rowley added that developers that do not fix historic issues will struggle to continue working on projects.

“Those who have commenced building will not get building-control sign-off,” he said. “It has been made clear to the industry that we are serious about this, and that it will be something we do not want to use, but is ultimately there to be used for developers who haven’t stepped up yet and continue to do so.”

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