The fallout from the Grenfell fire disaster has firmly placed the issue of housing shortages, house prices, rents, empty homes and development on the national agenda.
And now Selly Oak MP Steve McCabe who has, for a long time, railed against the problems of cowboy builders and dodgy student landlords blighting his constituency with overbearing extensions, has spotted an opportunity to revive his plans for a crackdown.
Regular readers will remember how over the last five years the growth in student numbers coupled with relaxation in building laws led to large numbers of family homes in Selly Oak being converted and extended into large student digs.
More rooms were added, others were partitioned and unsightly multi-storey extensions abounded denying neighbours of light and privacy – all with a view to cramming more rent-paying students in.
“The cavalier attitude of some developers suggests it’s all about packing people in like sardines so as to maximise the rent take,” Mr McCabe said.
Mr McCabe suspected that a number of these properties were safety risks, saying the relaxation in planning and building regulations were ruthlessly exploited by some rogue landlords.
In one case he dealt with the works wrecking a neighbour’s home and in another he says a gas flue was dismantled and ‘nearly poisoned an elderly couple’.
The White family, in Billesley, made national front pages when a neighbour’s extension was so close it left only a four-inch gap and shared a gutter with their home. Private legal prosecution was their only course of action.
This is the way in which the relaxation of planning and building regulations, designed to cut red tape for those looking to build a kitchen extension, loft conversion or conservatory, was exploited.
The Labour MP is now arguing there are parallels with the Grenfell disaster in which a lack of, or relaxation of, regulations around fire safety and cladding, seen as part of a war on ‘unnecessary’ bureaucracy, created a fire hazard which contributed to the huge loss of life.
Since 2015 Mr McCabe has been trying to get new laws passed to protect family homes from unsafe and undesirable conversion into houses of multiple occupation or student houses.
His private members’ bill won some support before it ‘was talked out’ by a housing minister last year and dropped. He has also been trying to smuggle some of its elements into housing laws going through the House of Lords.
But now he argues Grenfell Tower has shown that some of the laws and building regulations are unclear. He is particularly keen to ensure there is more independent survey and inspection of these conversions.
He said: “The government says it will take action in the public sphere but I’m worried that there may be a whole set of other issues with private conversions. Now I’m calling for a moratorium on these conversions until the rules are much clearer and we can be sure that these conversions are safe. We can’t afford to wait until something awful happens.”
Given the huge loss of life at Grenfell despite warnings, perhaps Government ministers will not be so quick to ignore and be more receptive to his argument.