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Gove admits ‘faulty’ guidance partly to blame for Grenfell fire

<span>Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA</span>
Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

Michael Gove has admitted that “faulty and ambiguous” government guidance was partly responsible for the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The UK housing secretary said lax regulation allowed cladding firms to “put people in danger in order to make a profit”.

Gove’s remarks come more than five years after the tower block fire that killed 72 people.

He also said he wanted to abolish the “outdated, feudal” leasehold system of home ownership by the end of this parliament. And he said developers would on Monday be given a six-week deadline to sign a legally binding contract committing them to fixing unsafe tower blocks or be banned from building new homes.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, the senior Conservative said he accepted that lax housing regulations were partly responsible for the Grenfell disaster. He said: “There was a system of regulation that was faulty. The government did not think hard enough, or police effectively enough, the whole system of building safety. Undoubtedly.”

He added: “I believe that [the guidance] was so faulty and ambiguous that it allowed unscrupulous people to exploit a broken system in a way that led to tragedy.”

In an interview with Sky News on Sunday, Gove said it was “undeniably the case” that the building regulations in place at the time were not right. He added: “If you look at what happened at Grenfell there were lots of factors, but yes – government collectively has to take some responsibility.

“I think the responsibility extends before the Conservatives came into government in 2010 and I’m not about attributing blame to individuals, I think that’s wrong, because there are a lot of us who have responsibility to say that the system of regulation that was in place was ambiguous and it was exploited by the people who were putting profit before lives.”

Gove’s department of levelling up, housing and communities will on Monday issue a new contract to developers ordering them to pledge within six weeks to fix unsafe cladding or face being banned from building new homes.

He said the contract “should end” the policy of leaseholders having to pay to fix unsafe cladding. He said: “The people responsible for erecting buildings which we now know are unsafe have to pay the costs of making sure those buildings are safe.”

It is expected to cost developers around £5bn to remove and repair fire-risk cladding on the homes of an estimated 700,000 people. Only 7% of dangerous flats have been fixed since the Grenfell disaster on 14 June 2017.

Gove said he expected the Grenfell Tower inquiry, which is due to report its findings later this year, to attribute some blame on the government for housing regulations that allowed homes to be clad in dangerous materials.

The housing secretary said he wanted to abolish leasehold ownership by the end of this parliament, which is expected to be next year. It would have significant implications for the nearly one in five homes in England – 4.8m of the total – that are leasehold-owned.

He told Sky News: “We want to introduce legislation in the final parliamentary sessions of this calendar year to change the leasehold system. It’s not easy in legal terms because you’ve got a tangle of deals going back hundreds of years – unstitching all of that is difficult – but the fundamental thing is that leasehold is an unfair form of property ownership.

“In crude terms, if you buy a flat that should be yours. You shouldn’t be on the hook for charges which managing agents and other people can land you with which are gouging.”