Housing secretary Robert Jenrick and the metropolitan mayors have issued a joint statement insisting that replacement of Grenfell-style flammable cladding remains priority work.
Earlier this month, as we reported, Galliard Homes decided to remove all 160+ operatives working to replace the flammable cladding that it had put up at New Capital Quay in Greenwich. Galliard said that it was not possible to provide adequate welfare arrangements and keep to site workers two metres apart at all times, as per industry guidance.
But it seems Robert Jenrick believes that that was the wrong call.
“I have been deeply concerned that vital building safety work has significantly slowed down as a result of the pandemic,” the secretary of state said. “I have been clear that work must resume to ensure the safety of residents living in buildings with unsafe cladding or with insufficient fire safety measures, and it is entirely possible for this work to be done safely within health guidelines.”
Cllr Peter John, chair of London Councils, agreed, saying: “We cannot allow the unprecedented challenge that we have all faced with Covid-19 as an excuse to forget the challenge of making our buildings fire-safe across London and the UK. Councils in London want to see our residents safe in their homes, so remediation work must continue urgently and building-owners and contractors must treat this work as an absolute priority.”
The Ministry of Housing has appointed Faithful & Gould to advise those planning and doing cladding remediation work, including identifying and increasing awareness of safe practice under current Covid-19 restrictions.
The latest version of the coronavirus Site Operating Procedures (Version 3) makes clear that an inability to stay two metres apart is no reason to stop work if that work is sufficiently important.
The key section of states: “In line with Public Health England (PHE) guidelines, where it is not possible to follow the social distancing guidelines in full in relation to a particular activity, you should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the site to continue to operate, and, if so, take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission.”
It goes on to say: “Where face-to-face working is essential to carry out a task when working within two metres:
- Keep this to 15 minutes or less where possible
- Consider introducing an enhanced authorisation process for these activities
- Provide additional supervision to monitor and manage compliance.”
However, Galliard believes that the secretary of state must have been talking about some other company, claiming that it has the full support of the Ministry of Housing Communities & Local Government to suspend works in Greenwich.
A spokesperson said: “The MHCLG have been very open in their engagement, there is regular contact between Galliard and MHCLG so that all parties are aware of the position and progress. The statement from the secretary of state Robert Jenrick is entirely consistent with the decision taken by Galliard to temporarily suspend re-cladding works at New Capital Quay. That is clear from the repetition of the statement regarding the continuing necessity to maintain social distancing rules.
“The MHCLG are fully supportive of not putting workers at risk – at New Capital Quay the four primary reasons remain as valid today as they did on 24th March when the decision was originally taken:
- “With 160+ operatives on the project; stopping works took those personnel off of the public transport network – providing some relief and space for our NHS heroes using those same Tubes and Buses.
- “Providing 160+ operatives with proper welfare arrangements and keeping to the ‘social distancing’ guidance is not possible on this fully occupied residential development.
- “At the outset, Galliard chose to avoid using scaffolding which would cover over the outside walls and apartment windows - so that residents could continue to enjoy the spectacular Thames River views and have uninterrupted daylight. The alternative is a slower more expensive method, it is based on using mobile elevators, mast climbers and other powered access equipment. This does mean that small teams must work together on these platforms, appropriate distancing is not possible.
- “With the imposition of the lockdown, New Capital Quay residents are, like everyone else, now working from home. As a result the daytime occupancy of New Capital Quay has rocketed from normally less than 150 persons to almost 2,500. The normal noise generated by machines and operations going about the re-cladding works would be very inconvenient for those residents temporarily working from home.”