Cladding funding diverted from affordable housing
THE GOVERNMENT has admitted that its £400m investment in replacing flammable cladding on residential high rises ‘will be taken’ from its affordable homes programme.
Prime Minister Theresa May recently committed to spending around £400m to pay for the removal of flammable cladding from local authority and housing association high rises. Noting that fire services had now checked more than 1,250 high rises, a spokeswoman for Mrs May said that cladding replacement was still required on 158 high rises 18 metres or higher in the social sector, with work begun on 104.
Mrs May stated at the time: ‘Councils and housing associations must remove dangerous cladding quickly, but paying for these works must not undermine their ability to do important maintenance and repair work. I’ve worked closely with my right honourable friends, the chancellor and the housing secretary, and I can today confirm that the government will fully fund the removal and replacement of dangerous cladding by councils and housing associations, estimated at £400m. And the housing secretary will set out further details later this week.’
Now however, The Guardian has reported that the government has admitted that the funding ‘will be taken from [its] Affordable Homes Programme’, which means ‘fewer affordable homes will be built in the coming years’. The news outlet noted that neither Mrs May nor Housing Secretary James Brokenshire had ‘mentioned that the money was coming from that budget when they announced the bailout’.
The information was revealed after Housing Minister Dominic Raab submitted a written answer to a question from shadow Housing Secretary John Healey, in which he stated that ‘this does mean that fewer homes will be delivered in the short term’, though he claimed £400m would be added to the next affordable homes programme budget in 2021-22.
With the ‘initial aim’ of the programme to provide 225,000 units up to 2021, the government ‘has not said’ how many homes would now be built as a result of the deduction, though The Guardian surmised that ‘even if £150,000 were spent building every home it would mean a reduction in the new supply of affordable housing units of almost 2,700 over the period’.
Mr Raab’s response also stated: ‘The government will fully fund the removal and replacement of dangerous aluminium composite material cladding [used on Grenfell] on buildings owned by councils and housing associations, with costs estimated at £400m ... Our Affordable Homes Programme remains over £9bn, with £400m of that now available in 2021-22.
‘This responds to calls from social landlords for longer term certainty of grant funding for new homes. The programme will still deliver the same number of homes, but this does mean that fewer homes will be delivered in the short term. We will announce more details shortly about how councils and housing associations can apply for funding, including conditions attached to the grant.’
In January, it was revealed that only three council owned high rises nationwide had been reclad, out of 160 that failed the government’s fire safety tests. The government’s pace of response was attacked as ‘simply not good enough’, with details having emerged amid issues regarding councils requesting funding assistance, and the government was accused in parliament of breaking its pledge to help councils with funding.
Four were reported to be set to receive funding, after an update from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government at a parliamentary select committee, which stated that the department ‘has received inquiries from 36 councils about financial help’, but that ‘so far none have been approved’. Last week, MPs wrote to the government to implore it to ‘urgently release’ funds to ‘accelerate’ removal of combustible cladding.
Following Chancellor Philip Hammond’s budget last year, the only fire safety investment was £28m to help victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, though he stated that ‘if any local authority cannot access funding to pay for essential fire safety work, they should contact us immediately’, and that ‘we will not let financial constraints get in the way of essential safety work’.