A report by the House of Commons all-party housing, communities and local government committee today says that government support for cladding replacement does not go nearly far enough for what is needed.
The dangers of certain widely used cladding systems was exposed by the Grenfell Tower fire in west London on 14th June 2017, when an aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding system, retrofitted just a couple of years earlier, acted as an accelerant for a fire that should have stayed contained within a single apartment. Fire spread rapidly up the 24-storey building, killing residents who were obeying instructions to stay put.
One of the continuing repercussions is that, three years on, many residents of tall buildings continue to pay hundreds of pounds a month for waking fire watches and face bills of tens of thousands of pounds for remedial work fix fire safety issues.
In theri report the MP say: “In addition to 300 buildings with ACM cladding awaiting remediation, we now know there are likely to be a further 11,300 buildings with other forms of combustible cladding, of which approximately 1,700 are high-risk and 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.”
The report – Cladding: progress of remediation – says: “Government support will fall far short of what is needed to carry out remedial work on all buildings that currently have dangerous cladding and other fire safety issues, including inadequate fire doors or missing fire breaks.
At the 2020 spring budget, the chancellor announced a new £1bn Building Safety Fund to remediate all unsafe materials from private and social sector residential buildings, above 18 metres in height. However, the committee says that this is “likely to only be sufficient to cover the cost of removal from a third of the 1,700 buildings needing remediation”.
It adds that stringent rules on applying to the fund, including a short application window and restrictions against social housing providers, risks leaving many unable to access the funding.
The committee is calling on 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”.
Buildings with other forms of dangerous cladding should have all fire safety defects removed by June 2022, it urges, and says that the government must accept that the £1bn pledged so far will be insufficient and be prepared to meet the cost of what will be necessary to make sure buildings are safe.
Building owners should be made to pay for this, it says. “Any residential building where work has not begun by December 2020 should be taken over using compulsory purchase order powers, and consider establishing a new national body whose sole purpose is to purchase the freehold and manage the remediation of buildings with fire safety defects.”
Labour MP Clive Betts, who chairs the committee, said: “We have challenged the government to finally commit to removing all forms of dangerous cladding once and for all. Three years on from the Grenfell Tower disaster there are still thousands of home owners living in buildings with some form of dangerous cladding. 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.
“It is clear that the £1bn 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 a 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.
“This should not just be a question of the government, and therefore the taxpayer, stepping in with a blank cheque. Those who have caused, and in some cases refuse to rectify, safety issues must be made to pay. We call on the government to consider taking legal action to recover the cost of works on individual buildings. Compulsory purchase order powers should be used to take direct ownership of buildings where owners have failed to begin remedial work by December 2020.
“It is time for the government to commit to end the scourge of dangerous cladding once and for all. A piecemeal approach that will see homeowners facing many more years of stress and financial hardship. This is not an option.”
Responding to the select committee report on cladding remediation, Lord Porter, the Local Government Association (LGA) 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.
“The £15bn figure the committee puts on the cost of addressing all fire safety defects in every high-risk residential building is a horrifying indictment of the failed building safety system in this country, but does not come as a surprise.
“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.
“The government needs to take a risk-based approach and invest in the measures needed to reach acceptable levels of building safety. For example, in some blocks it could be more effective to fund the retrofitting of sprinklers than to attempt to fix all compartmentation faults. However, any judgement on this issue would need to be taken by those with acceptable levels of fire engineering expertise.”