Government announces billions to fix cladding on high-rises

The number of high rise apartment blocks wrapped in combustible Grenfell tower-style cladding totals around 470 (‘Grenfell Tower-Style Cladding Identified in 470 High-Rise Blocks’). In the fourth year since the fire government action has stepped up to remove the dangerous cladding.

However, flammable cladding is not the only fire safety issue surrounding residential buildings. It’s time for the government to review all residential buildings, implement tougher policies and allow more cash to flow for remedial works.

Last week Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, announced a £3.5bn fund to fix dangerous cladding on high-rise buildings in England, with the offer of loans to leaseholders to fix similar problems in shorter buildings (UK Government Faces Tory MPs Backlash over Fund to Fix Cladding | Society | The Guardian).

This does not go quite far enough and Conservative backbencher, Stephen McPartland, who has worked closely on efforts to secure funds for leaseholders thinks the scheme does not go far enough. Calling for Downing Street to take over the policy, saying the announced scheme did not apparently cover fire-related costs other than cladding, while the loan scheme appeared unworkable.

Nearly 40 conservative signatures have accumulated for an amendment to the government’s fire safety bill, which would bar freeholders from passing the costs of removing cladding or other fire safety work on to leaseholders.

Stephen McPartland is right to push for an amendment especially when it was made clear that anyone living with dangerous cladding on buildings between four and six storeys will not be covered by grants, but will be able to access a new system of long-term low-interest loans. This was because government experts had repeatedly determined risks were significantly lower in shorter properties, the housing secretary said. Jenrick then acknowledged that many homeowners had “found themselves caught in an absolutely invidious position” (UK Government Faces Tory MPs Backlash over Fund to Fix Cladding | Society | The Guardian).

Jenrick also announce a levy on developers to cover the cost of grants, which will be applied when they seek planning permission to build high-rise buildings. A separate tax will be introduced from next year on money made in UK residential property development to raise £2bn over a decade and help pay for cladding remediation (UK Government Faces Tory MPs Backlash over Fund to Fix Cladding | Society | The Guardian).

The opposition
Labour said the measures did not help fix fire safety problems not related to cladding that had emerged after the Grenfell Tower disaster, and that by offering loans rather than grants on shorter buildings it denied justice to thousands of people (UK Government Faces Tory MPs Backlash over Fund to Fix Cladding | Society | The Guardian).

This matters because many fire safety issues are not solely cladding related as the Grenfell Tower Fire proved. Issues such as fire doors not self-closing and not meeting the required specification for a fire door, fire extinguishers out of date and numerous emergency lighting issues (‘Fire Door Problems Endemic in Grenfell Tower, Survivors’ Testimonies Show’).

It could be argued that the government should go much further then this. In addition, passing the costs onto leaseholders in the form of loans will only exacerbate the problem.

Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow housing secretary, told the commons that “The government has betrayed their promise that leaseholders will not pay for the buildings safety crisis,” (UK Government Faces Tory MPs Backlash over Fund to Fix Cladding | Society | The Guardian).

References:
‘Fire Door Problems Endemic in Grenfell Tower, Survivors’ Testimonies Show’. Inside Housing, https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/news/fire-door-problems-endemic-in-grenfell-tower-survivors-testimonies-show-59084. Accessed 2 Mar. 2021.

‘Grenfell Tower-Style Cladding Identified in 470 High-Rise Blocks’. The Guardian, 28 June 2018, http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jun/28/private-high-rise-towers-flammable-cladding-grenfell.

‘How the Grenfell Tower Fire Led to a Homeowner Crisis, and What Today’s Announcement Means’. Inews.Co.Uk, 10 Feb. 2021, https://inews.co.uk/news/cladding-scandal-grenfell-tower-fire-crisis-uk-homeowner-announcement-today-meaning-explained-865957.

UK Government Faces Tory MPs Backlash over Fund to Fix Cladding | Society | The Guardian. 10 Feb. 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/feb/10/jenrick-announces-billions-to-fix-cladding-on-high-rises.

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