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Housing committee’s chair attacks Government for failing to protect leaseholders

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Homeowners living in unsafe cladding flats must be protected from the £15BILLION fire safety repair bill, says Housing Select Committee chair

  • We speak to the Communities and Local Government committee’s Clive Betts MP
  • Mr Betts calls on the Government to take responsibility for the cladding crisis

The new Fire Safety Act failed to protect all leaseholders from cladding repair costs and the head of the committee that scrutinises Government housing policy is not holding back about who needs to pick up the bill.

Chairman of the Communities and Local Government committee, Clive Betts MP, spoke exclusively to us about the cladding situation in Britain and why he believes more needs to be done to help flat owners affected.

We asked him about what the solution is to Britain’s cladding crisis, how much it will cost to sort out, and whether all leaseholders should be prevented from picking up the bill.

Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns about cladding have become a national issue

Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns about cladding have become a national issue

Mr Betts’ interview comes after the Fire Safety Bill became law last month, following a parliamentary battle over who should pay to fix fire-trap flats after the Grenfell disaster.

Controversially, some leaseholders are still legally liable for the cost of fixing unsafe cladding and other fire safety defects.

Taxpayer funding was more than trebled in February to £5.1billion. But the cash is only for those living in buildings above 60ft with unsafe cladding.

We asked Mr Betts about how long he thought it was going to take to resolve the cladding crisis as leaseholders continue to live in unsafe homes.

Many flat owners still don’t have a timetable in place for the works or a final bill, and in the meantime have no option but to continue living in unsafe flats.

He said: ‘All of them face the situation now where the property they live in is unsafe and they can’t afford to make it safe.

‘There is the double worry of having the insecurity of an unsafe home and the possibility of having debt they cannot afford to repay. It is a horrible position to be in.’ 

What do you think the solution is to Britain’s cladding crisis?   

We spoke to Clive Betts MP about the cladding crisis

We spoke to Clive Betts MP about the cladding crisis

Mr Betts said: ‘The answer is for the Government to realise that this is a responsibility they are going to have to take on in the first instance.

‘We could wait for action to be taken against the architects, the contractors and subcontractors but even if that is successful, that could take years. Some developments have been sold on to other organisations, while other developers are out of business now.

‘We are going to resolve the problem by the Government taking responsibility, but that responsibility should be shared with the industry, both the constructors and product suppliers. A levy or a tax is good idea. But in the first instance, the Government has to get on and make the buildings safe.’

What measures do you want to see in the Building Safety Fund to protect leaseholders from repairs bills?  

He said: ‘What I would like to see in the Building Safety Fund is money made available not only to cover cladding but all safety defects, and not just those buildings over 18 metres. We need to sure all multi-storey buildings are safe. Tenants should not have to pay either.

‘While waiting to make it safe, you could pay thousands of pounds a month in waking watches.’

What is stopping the repair work from being carried out and the Government paying for it? 

Mr Betts said: ‘Our best estimate was £15billion, but at this stage, even the Government doesn’t know the scale of this. It is not just buildings that have cladding, but those that have a fire risk.’ 

How do you see this unfolding and what will it take to resolve this?  

He said: ‘Eventually, the Government is going to have to accept responsibility. The horrible thing that worries me is that will it take another disaster. There needs to be continued pressure on MPs as many will have affected properties in their constituency.

‘They need to speak out. The more we can get people talking about their first-hand experience, the more we can get the message across that these are ordinary families who bought their first home, who want to start a family, or who are in retirement – and they have acute anxiety and are under enormous pressure.’

Do you think this will be resolved in the next 10 years? 

‘Yes, I think it has to be and that it will be. As a rich and civilised country, in 2021, we should not be seeing people live in unsafe homes,’ he concluded. 

THE GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

The Government responded to calls for it to take responsibility for the cladding crisis, saying speculation about what it would cost was ‘unhelpful’.

An MHCLG spokesperson said: ‘Speculative figures on cladding remediation are unreliable and unhelpful.

‘The Government is bringing forward the biggest improvements to building safety in 40 years through our Building Safety Bill and an unprecedented £5billion funding package to protect leaseholders from the cost of replacing unsafe cladding.

‘This does not absolve building owners of the responsibility to make their buildings safe and they must take swift action to remediate safety issues, without passing on costs to leaseholders.

‘Work is already complete or under way in the vast majority of high-rise buildings with unsafe ACM cladding.’

 

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Foley to bring school reopening plan to Cabinet on Tuesday

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Minister for Education Norma Foley says she has every confidence schools will reopen fully from late August and early September.

Ms Foley said there was ongoing engagement between her department and public health officials on the matter but all schools were set to reopen.

Strong mitigation measures would be in place in schools to ensure that they would continue to be controlled environments, she told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show on Monday.

Covid-19 infection rates among children were at their highest when children were not at school and public health experts had pointed out “on a consistent basis to schools being a very significantly controlled environment”.

The safe operation of the Leaving Certificate exams and enhanced summer camps indicated that the safe operation of education could be maintained, she said.

A plan would be put in place to allow schools to “draw down” CO2 monitors and the Minister said she was confident there would be enough monitors for all schools by the start of the new school year.

In relation to Covid-19 vaccines for children, Ms Foley said the “expertise” lay with the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) from which her department would take guidance.

“I have received confirmation that the 16 to 18-year-old cohort should be in a position for online registration in the coming days, and I have been advised that the 15-year-olds cohort are still being considered by NIAC and there has been no definitive timeline given,” she added.

Ms Foley will bring a plan to Cabinet on Tuesday outlining enhanced public information campaigns, the outcome of antigen testing pilots, and the purchase of C02 monitors to assist in ventilating classrooms.

Capacity limits on school transport services will also remain in place.

Government sources were adamant on Sunday that second-level education would resume in the autumn, despite concerns among public-health officials that the wave could grow following the reopening of indoor dining today, before peaking in September.

“Schools will reopen,” a senior Coalition source said.

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Over 40 complaints made about ‘unsuitable’ books on English curriculum

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Some books being studied by Junior Cert and Leaving Cert English students feature “disturbing and sick content” and material that is “clearly unsuitable for minors”, complainants have told the Department of Education.

The department has received more than 40 complaints on the issue in recent months, with one email to Minister Norma Foley describing The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood as “nothing but sadistic, upsetting and of no moral learning or value to students”.

The acclaimed dystopian novel is based in a patriarchal totalitarian state where women, or handmaids, are forced to produce children for commanders.

One “concerned parent” said they were “perturbed” that their teenager was studying the novel Room by Irish author Emma Donoghue.

‘Questionable’

They said many of the topics in the book were “questionable” and that greater consideration should have been given before the book was “forced upon sensitive people in this day and age”. The Booker-shortlisted story is told from the perspective of a young boy held captive in a small room with his mother.

The emails, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, were from parents, one of whom said they were “appealing to and begging” the department to change the curriculum.

One parent expressed “shock and concern” about the prescribed reading lists, citing a perceived “lack of vigilance regarding the age appropriateness” of some books. “The material is offensive, abhorrent and clearly unsuitable for minors,” they said.

The curriculum could “only be described as the sexualisation and desensitising of our children… there needs to be an investigation into this whole sordid affair”, another complaint said.

‘Enslaving’

One person said the book list was “enslaving” students to “abominable ungodly content”, while another sarcastically suggested there was “nothing to stop” Fifty Shades of Grey, the bestselling explicit erotic romance novel, being added.

Some emails were directed towards Ms Foley personally, and called for her to be fired and “held directly responsible”. The department’s response stated that the curriculum at all levels was considered to be for all learners “regardless of race, religion, socioeconomic background, gender or orientation”.

It said it was important that each book was viewed “in its entirety rather than being reduced to particular sections which may be especially controversial”, and that the texts had “strong literary pedigrees” and featured on curricula internationally.

There were also several emails sent to the department in defence of the curriculum, predominantly from students.

The text-list working groups for each subject, convened by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, are comprised of teachers, third-level lecturers, staff from relevant support agencies and experts in children’s and young adult literature. The curriculum did not change this year though the Minister said it would be reviewed in the coming months.


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EDEN CONFIDENTIAL: A new £10m home sweet home in the Cotswolds for Nick Candy and Holly Valance 

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You might have thought having a Chelsea pad worth more than £75 million would be enough for most property tycoons, but not for Nick Candy.

I can disclose that Candy and his pop star wife, Holly Valance, have splashed out well over £10 million on a Grade II‑listed mansion in Oxfordshire.

They will be a short drive from trendy private members’ club Soho Farmhouse, where Prince Harry courted Meghan.

That's sweet: Nick Candy and his pop star wife, Holly Valance, have splashed out well over £10 million on a Grade II‑listed mansion in Oxfordshire (pictured)

That’s sweet: Nick Candy and his pop star wife, Holly Valance, have splashed out well over £10 million on a Grade II‑listed mansion in Oxfordshire (pictured)

Holly Valance and Nick Candy attend Lisa Tchenguiz's 50th birthday party at the Troxy in 2015

Holly Valance and Nick Candy attend Lisa Tchenguiz’s 50th birthday party at the Troxy in 2015

The seven-bedroom property has a pool, stables, tennis and squash courts and its own chapel

The seven-bedroom property has a pool, stables, tennis and squash courts and its own chapel

While it is unknown how much the couple paid, records show it was bought for £8m in 2012

While it is unknown how much the couple paid, records show it was bought for £8m in 2012

The house is a short drive from trendy private members' club Soho Farmhouse

The house is a short drive from trendy private members’ club Soho Farmhouse

Candy and his pop star wife, Holly Valance, have splashed out well over £10 million on the property

Candy and his pop star wife, Holly Valance, have splashed out well over £10 million on the property

The seven-bedroom property has a pool, stables, tennis and squash courts

The seven-bedroom property has a pool, stables, tennis and squash courts

Candy, 48, declines to say how much they paid, but the house was bought by the previous owners for £8 million in 2012

Candy, 48, declines to say how much they paid, but the house was bought by the previous owners for £8 million in 2012

Prices have rocketed in the area, where locals include Kate Moss and JCB tycoon Lord Bamford and his wife Carole

Prices have rocketed in the area, where locals include Kate Moss and JCB tycoon Lord Bamford and his wife Carole

Candy, who has two daughters with his wife, adds: 'We're very immersed in our quiet country life at weekends'

Candy, who has two daughters with his wife, adds: ‘We’re very immersed in our quiet country life at weekends’

‘We have been looking for years to get something in the Cotswolds for the family, and finally, a year ago, we found a gorgeous family home in a wonderful village,’ Candy tells me.

The seven-bedroom property has a pool, stables, tennis and squash courts and its own chapel.

Candy, 48, declines to say how much they paid, but the house was bought by the previous owners for £8 million in 2012.

Since then, prices have rocketed in the area, where locals include Kate Moss and JCB tycoon Lord Bamford and his wife Carole, who started the Daylesford organic empire.

Candy, who has two daughters with his wife, adds: ‘We’re very immersed in our quiet country life at weekends and adore the friendly and welcoming village.’

Candy's luxury two-storey penthouse in Hyde Park has gone on sale for £175million

Candy’s luxury two-storey penthouse in Hyde Park has gone on sale for £175million

The stunning apartment is split over two levels, boasts five bedrooms, a 21m swimming pool, and measures around 18,000 sq ft - the equivalent of almost 18 average homes in England.

The stunning apartment is split over two levels, boasts five bedrooms, a 21m swimming pool, and measures around 18,000 sq ft – the equivalent of almost 18 average homes in England. 

Prolific author Alexander McCall Smith, creator of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency has been promised great things – but only after his death.

He says: ‘I was on tour in the United States and this woman came up to me with a book for signature, and she looked at me and said: ‘You know something, you’re going to be much more successful posthumously.’ ‘

The writer, 72, who has written 21 novels in the series, says. ‘She wasn’t being rude, but it was rather an odd thing to say to somebody.’

How guitar guru Beck gave Depp a silver lining 

Pictured: Johnny Depp is planning his comeback

Pictured: Johnny Depp is planning his comeback

With his acrimonious divorce from actress Amber Heard, and their bitter court room showdown in London last summer, Hollywood star Johnny Depp suffered the biggest setback of his glittering career.

Now, however, I hear he’s quietly planning his comeback — right here in Britain.

The 58-year-old star of Fantastic Beasts and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory has been taken under the wing of British rock legend Jeff Beck.

The Hi Ho Silver Lining guitarist, 77, who’s so talented he had each of his fingers insured for £700,000 in 2010, has secretly been hosting Depp at his Riverhall country estate in Wadhurst, East Sussex, where they’ve been writing and recording together in Beck’s studio. Depp is an accomplished guitarist himself.

‘They’ve been collaborating on material for Jeff’s next album,’ reveals a source close to Depp. ‘It’s been great for Johnny to get back to his first true love, which is music.

‘Jeff has been a great friend to Johnny during a very difficult time, and being away from Hollywood has been exactly what Johnny needed.

‘He wants to take a step back from everything and focus on a comeback through music.’

Eight-time Grammy Award winner Jeff, who has been called ‘one of the most influential lead guitarists in rock’ by Rolling Stone magazine, recorded a cover of John Lennon’s Isolation with Depp last year, intended to help people cope with life in lockdown.

Johnny Depp of Hollywood Vampires performs on stage at Celebrity Theatre in 2018 in Arizona

Johnny Depp of Hollywood Vampires performs on stage at Celebrity Theatre in 2018 in Arizona

In 2019 they played together at the Crossroads Music Festival in Dallas, Texas, for Eric Clapton’s charity, then did a short tour of the U.S.

Depp has previously featured on songs by Oasis, Iggy Pop, and Aerosmith, as well as on records by his ex-girlfriend, singer Vanessa Paradis, with whom he has two children. In 2015, he formed the super group, Hollywood Vampires, with Alice Cooper and Joe Perry.

‘Johnny hopes to return to films eventually,’ adds the source, ‘but it’s music first.’

Boogie-woogie pianist Jools Holland is learning to sing lullabies. The Later . . . with Jools Holland host has become a grandfather at the age of 63.

‘I am very pleased that I now have a wonderful grandson, Gabriel,’ he says. His musician daughter, Mabel Ray, 30, is the proud mum.

‘We seem to have identical hair,’ he adds of the baby. ‘He is a delightful little fellow. All thanks to the fantastic staff at Homerton University Hospital for delivering him to us.’

Queen’s Windsor gong show for late Duke’s loyal page

The Queen is making sure Prince Philip’s most steadfast former aides feel rewarded.

I hear that she invited the Duke of Edinburgh’s loyal page, William Henderson, to Windsor Castle this week to collect his gong.

His appointment as a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order was announced on what would have been Philip’s 100th birthday.

Henderson was among those who took part in the funeral procession, walking behind the coffin.

Known for his sarcastic quips when required to report on the love lives of the Royal Family, waggish news anchor Simon McCoy seems to be secretly obsessed with the Windsors.

‘If I were invisible, I would go into Highgrove and stand by the phone to listen to any conversation Prince Charles might have with Harry,’ admits McCoy, who recently moved from the BBC to its new rival channel, GB News.

‘I feel desperately sorry for Charles — I really do. Family difficulties are bad enough without one of you bleating about it to the Press all the time.’

Creating a buzz with Angelina the Queen Bee 

There’s a buzz about Angelina Jolie, but it’s nothing to do with her film career.

The actress brought a touch of Hollywood glamour to the new French Apidology Observatory, in Sainte-Baume, where she presented its first graduates with their diplomas.

Angelina Jolie with children Pax, Zahara and Shiloh seen shopping at trendy KITH's in Paris, France

Angelina Jolie with children Pax, Zahara and Shiloh seen shopping at trendy KITH's in Paris, France

Angelina Jolie (pictured shopping Paris) brought a touch of Hollywood glamour to the new French Apidology Observatory where she presented its first graduates with their diplomas

Jolie, 46, who’s recently been seen out with her British ex-husband Jonny Lee Miller, was there because she’s involved in the Women for Bees project, which aims to encourage women to become beekeepers.

Clearly, there’s only one Queen Bee.

Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt, who starred on TV diving show Splash, will be demonstrating her water skills at the local pool rather than heading off to the Med this summer.

‘I’ll be staying in my constituency and spending time at my local lido,’ the MP for Portsmouth North tells me at the Westminster launch party for her book, Greater: Britain After The Storm, which she’s co-written with Chris Lewis. ‘I’ve earned that — I went to great lengths to save it.’

The forecast is hotting up with Carol’s exotic secret 

This could liven up those dull BBC meteorological reports: weather presenter Carol Kirkwood has revealed a secret skill.

‘I can belly-dance,’ whispers the former Strictly contestant.

‘It is actually quite hard, but I learned to do it when I was a student travelling in Turkey and Greece.’

The Scottish hotelier’s daughter, 59, adds: I can’t claim to be very good at it — but I do at least have the belly for it these days.’

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