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15/06/2020

Tally of high-rise residences still with combustible cladding is ‘shocking’

Words: Laura Edgar
Grenfell / Shutterstock: 1379618939

There are 300 buildings with ACM cladding awaiting remediation, and another 11,300 buildings with other forms of combustible cladding, three years on from the fire at Grenfell Tower in west London, which killed 72 people. 

A Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Select Committee report states that of those 11,300 buildings, about 1,700 are classed as high-risk and are likely to require urgent remediation. 

“Three years since the Grenfell Tower fire, to still have 2,000 high-risk residential buildings with dangerous cladding is deeply shocking and completely unacceptable,” it maintains.

In March, the government established a £1 billion Building Safety Fund to remove combustible non-ACM cladding from buildings above 18 metres. But this, the committee points out, is likely to be sufficient only to cover the cost of removal for a third of the 1,700 buildings needing remediation.

Although the committee considers the fund a much-needed and welcome measure, it wants to see it apply to all high-risk buildings – of any height, covering a range of fire safety defects, including combustible insulation, and covering all costs associated with remediation works.

It reports that “properties have become unmortgageable and unsellable, with many residents paying hundreds of pounds a month for waking fire watches and face bills running into the tens of thousand for remedial work”.

Clive Betts, chair of the committee, said: “The financial and emotional toll has been significant, with temporary safety measures costing huge sums and the ongoing stress of living in a property that may not be safe. This is not good enough.”

The fund’s stringent rules for applying, including a short application window and restrictions against social housing providers, risks leaving many unable to access vital funding, explains the committee.

It urges the government to make an “absolute commitment” to ensure that all buildings of any height with ACM cladding should be fully remediated of all fire safety defects by December 2021. In addition, buildings with other forms of dangerous cladding should have all fire safety defects removed by June 2022. 

Residents could not be expected to continue meeting the “exorbitant” costs of temporary fire safety measures, adds the committee, so the government must also accept that the £1 billion pledged so far will be insufficient and it should be prepared to meet the cost of making sure buildings are safe as well as provide funding support for ongoing ‘waking watch’ fire patrols and fire alarms.

Betts said: “It is clear that the £1 billion Building Safety Fund will not be enough. Too many risk being excluded by the criteria for accessing this support and the amount of money pledged is only enough to cover a fraction of the work needed. The fund should be increased so that it is enough to cover the amount of work that is actually needed, both to remove cladding and resolve wider fire safety concerns. Further support must also be provided for the costs of stop-gap safety measures, such as ‘waking watches’, to reduce the burden on homeowners.”

Regarding the impact on physical and mental health that living in potentially dangerous buildings has had, the government should guarantee that all residents are offered support by the NHS to help them to cope.

The committee also recommends that the government should seek to recover costs on individual buildings from those responsible and be prepared to take legal action – the taxpayer “should not be expected to cover all costs of this crisis”.

It calls on the government to take a hard line with freeholders who fail to deal with dangerous cladding on properties for which they are responsible. It recommends that any residential building where work has not begun by December this year should be taken over using compulsory purchase order powers.


Reaction: 

Lord Porter, Local Government Association building safety spokesman, said: "The LGA shares the committee’s view that three years after the Grenfell Tower fire, the remediation of dangerous buildings is proceeding too slowly. Social landlords have been quick to address the issue, but progress in the private sector has been unacceptably slow.

“We have been urging government to act on non-ACM dangerous cladding for over two years and we are pleased that the committee shares our view that the fund announced in the budget, although positive, is insufficient. Without adequate public funding for the remediation of local authority-owned blocks, councils will not be able to deliver the new homes the government wants or fund improvement programmes...

“This is a crisis resulting from decades of inadequate building safety regulation under successive governments of all political colours. It needs to be addressed in a cost-effective manner, rather than through the piecemeal identification and remediation of flaw upon flaw in the built environment."

Darren Rodwell, London Councils’ executive member for housing and planning, said: “We can’t afford any penny pinching when it comes to fire safety.

“London boroughs are committed to making sure all our residents are safe in their homes. The government needs to work with us in meeting the massive costs of this crucial work.

“While we certainly welcome the government grants made available to councils so far, they only pay for the remediation of ACM cladding. The £1 billion Building Safety Fund for remediation of non-ACM external wall systems largely excludes social landlords such as councils, which is hugely frustrating.

“Boroughs’ finances are already under immense pressure due to years of funding reductions and now the impact of Covid-19. It’s unsustainable to expect local government and the wider social housing sector to absorb the vast majority of these costs themselves, which would only scale back spending in other vital areas - like investment in desperately needed new housing.”


The report can be found here on the UK Parliament website.

Image credit | Shutterstock

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