Combustible cladding on another 156 private high rises
THE GOVERNMENT has revealed that 156 more privately owned high rise towers across the UK are wrapped in combustible cladding similar to that on Grenfell Tower.
The Guardian reported that this has taken the overall number of high rise buildings with the cladding on them to 470, after councils identified more private sector blocks using materials similar to those on Grenfell Tower. In turn, the government said that it ‘expected’ the numbers to ‘rise further’, as another 170 private sector blocks’ cladding status is ‘still to be confirmed’. Additionally, only 19 buildings above 18m in height – both affordable and private blocks – have had cladding replaced.
Of these 19, only four of 297 private buildings have ‘been fully repaired’, and only 17 have repairs ‘under way’. 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’.
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.
However, it was later 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’, with neither Mrs May nor Mr Brokenshire having ‘mentioned that the money was coming from that budget when they announced the bailout’.
Progress on the private buildings is ‘proving slower’ as freeholders are arguing that leaseholders should pay bills, with Housing Minister James Brokenshire recently stating: ‘Fire and rescue services are working with building owners to ensure residents are safe now. But I want to see swifter progress in removing unsafe cladding. I have been clear that leaseholders should be protected from unfair costs and we expect the industry to do the right thing. If they don’t, I will continue to explore other routes and I am not ruling anything out.’
A taskforce is due to be set up to help councils identify cladding types on private buildings ‘amid growing concern that officials still do not know’, with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government having previously ordered councils to identify buildings wrapped in aluminium composite material (ACM) ‘by the end of May’. Ministers are said to be frustrated that private landlords ‘have not come forward in sufficient numbers’ to confirm cladding types.