Around 2,000 buildings are still covered with flammable cladding – despite the government pledging to remove it all by this month.
The housing, communities and local government committee met in the lead up to the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
The parlimentary committee warned fixing all serious fire safety defects in these high-risk residential buildings could cost up to £15 billion – despite the government’s new £1 billion fund for the cause being launched earlier this year.
The report from the committee added £1 billion to remove certain types of cladding will cover just one third of the highest-risk blocks in England.
Moreover, it says: ‘Stringent rules on applying to the fund, including a short application window and restrictions against social housing providers, risks leaving many unable to access vital funding.’
Thousands of homeowners are still sleeping in these potential fire-traps every night, and one of them spoke exclusively to Metro.co.uk about how fears have escalated as a result of being stuck inside them during the coronavirus lockdown.
The report calls on the government to pay the ‘exorbitant costs’ of temporary safety measures currently being footed by blameless leaseholders, before preparing to take legal action against building owners who have dragged their heels.
It suggests a hard line should be taken against slow-moving building owners, including using compulsory purchase orders to take direct ownership of the freehold of buildings with serious fire safety defects.
The report, called Cladding: Progress of Remediation, states: ‘Residents are facing life-changing bills for more than just combustible cladding.
‘If the government doesn’t provide additional funding, let us be clear: it means tens of thousands of residents sent massive bills for problems that aren’t their fault, and which, in many cases, will be a financial burden from which they will never recover.
‘It means thousands fewer affordable homes, as councils and housing associations are forced to divert funds to remediation projects; and worst of all, it will mean that some works are never carried out.’
Some 300 residential blocks in England still have Grenfell-style aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, while around 1,700 more have some form of dangerous cladding like timber or high-pressure laminate (HPL).
The government has so far committed £200 million for the removal of ACM cladding from private residential blocks and £400 million for social sector blocks – and said work would be complete by this month.
In a written statement published in July 2019, former housing secretary James Brokenshire said: ‘While many building owners have rightly taken action, there are still a number of residential buildings across the public and private sectors with unsafe ACM cladding where remediation has not yet started. I am clear that this situation is unacceptable.
‘In the private sector, progress has been slower… By the end of December 2019, any building in the private sector which I have not been assured is permanently safe should have a clear commitment to remediation, with a start and finish date agreed.
‘Where no such safety assurance or plan has been brought forward by the end of December, building owners can expect enforcement action to be taken. My expectation is that, other than in exceptional circumstances, building owners should complete remediation within six months of agreeing a plan – by June 2020.’
In the spring budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak set up a £1 billion fund for the removal of unsafe non-ACM cladding for residential blocks 18 metres or taller.
But the committee said this would cover only around 600 of the 1,700 buildings, saying the government is ‘clearly trying to find ways to fit a £3 billion liability into a £1 billion funding pot’.
Building owners also only have between June 1 and July 31 to apply for funds, which are to be allocated on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis, and any works commenced before March 2020 will not be covered.
The report added the funds cover only cladding removal, and do not stretch to other serious fire safety defects including combustible insulation, timber balconies and walkways, missing fire breaks and faulty fire doors.
The parliamentary committee report calls for:
- The government to ensure all buildings of any height with ACM cladding to be fully remediated of all fire safety defects by December 2021
- Buildings with other fire safety defects, including non-ACM cladding, should be remediated before June 2022
- The building safety fund to be increased to address all fire safety defects in every high-risk residential building, potentially costing up to £15 billion
- Any residential building where works have not commenced by December this year to be subject to a CPO, with a new national body created to step in where councils are ‘unable or unwilling to act’
Sunday marks three years since the Grenfell Tower fire, where an electrical fault with a fridge freezer sparked a devastating blaze which killed 72 people.
Flames which rapidly engulfed the 24-storey west London building were fuelled by its ACM cladding system, which had a polyethylene core.
The cladding system had a heat combustion akin to diesel and close to lighter fluid, the public inquiry into the disaster has heard.
The report said the victims of Grenfell had paid ‘a terrible price for a catastrophic failure of industry and government’.
Since the fire, there has been a national ban on using combustible cladding on new buildings and mandatory sprinklers on new builds over 11 metres high.
The report comes as a survey carried out by the UK Cladding Action Group revealed this week that one in five leaseholders living in residential blocks with flammable cladding across the country have had suicidal thoughts, or felt a desire to self-harm.
It also revealed nine out of 10 residents living in affected buildings have seen their mental health deteriorate as a result of issues with the cladding on their block.
A government spokesperson said: ‘The safety of residents is our top priority and since the Grenfell Tower fire we have worked tirelessly with councils to identify buildings at risk and ensure they are made safe.
‘We are providing £1.6 billion for the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings and are bringing forward the biggest legislative changes in a generation to provide further enforcement powers against those who do not comply with the law and ensuring that residents’ safety is at the heart of the construction process.
‘Building owners have a legal responsibility to keep their residents safe and whilst we have seen positive action from some, we are clear that more needs to be done to protect their tenants.’
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