Government announces £1bn cladding funding
IN THE recent budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the new funding ‘to help strip combustible cladding from homes’ in both social housing and privately owned blocks.
The Guardian reported on the funding, which ‘goes beyond’ the original £600m funding ‘set aside’ for both social housing and privately owned blocks to help with removing combustible cladding from blocks over 18m tall. The previous funding was for buildings with aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, but Mr Sunak said that this would ‘go beyond dealing with ACM to make sure that all unsafe combustible cladding will be removed’.
The news outlet added that Mr Sunak had ‘accepted demands’ to ‘bail out’ hundreds of thousands of affected leaseholders, as these residents ‘have faced soaring costs for mortgages, insurance and interim fire safety measures’. It also noted that Mr Sunak had ‘accepted expert advice’ that public funding ‘must concentrate on removing unsafe materials’ on high rise residential buildings’.
The funding would ensure such cladding would be removed ‘from every private and social residential building above 18m high’, and the government would continue to try and building owners and developers pay ‘their fair share’. However, The Guardian pointed out that ‘it remains unclear whether the fund will cover works on faulty fire doors and fire breaks’. Funding of £20m was also announced for fire and rescue services (FRSs).
Fran Reddington, founder of Manchester Cladiators campaign group, commented that ‘this is more than we expected. It’s a huge step forward, but it is still not enough and is only going to scratch the surface of some of the issues’. UK Cladding Action Group founder William Martin added that ‘the move was really welcome’, but that his first thought was ‘what about buildings under 18m?’.
Rebecca Fairclough from Manchester Cladiators also noted: ‘We are grateful but it’s not enough so we will continue with our campaign. Unfortunately it still doesn’t solve the issue for a lot of people. There are lots of areas that are not covered by it. It misses out all the other fire safety issues that buildings have and it also doesn’t include any dangerous cladding on buildings under 18m of which there are a lot across the country.’
British Woodworking Federation chief executive Helen Hewitt stated: ‘We welcome the government’s commitment to a £1bn building safety fund which will allow urgent work to be undertaken to make the UK’s housing safer. However, in order to safeguard millions of people, funding must also include provision for the replacement of fire doors as well as cladding removal.
‘We know that a significant number of councils in the UK have yet to replace inadequate fire doors, and that a number of doors still in use do not satisfy the 30-minute burn time standard. This means that people remain at risk of fires spreading through the buildings they live in. The Government must support local authorities in replacing fire doors by providing central funding, and by giving clear and unambiguous guidance on fire door specification, maintenance and testing.’
The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) ‘welcomed’ the announcement and ‘expresse[d] its relief’, adding that it was ‘precisely what NFCC has been calling for since the Grenfell Tower fire’, as previous private block funding ‘was a step in the right direction, but it did not go far enough’. The new funding would ‘help to ease and then finally remove the financial burden on leaseholders’, and ‘ensure people feel safe in their homes’.
It was also ‘pleased to see’ the additional £20m for FRSs, which ‘will assist in carrying out vital inspection and enforcement work’, an area ‘consistently highlighted’ by the NFCC as ‘needing improvement’. However, while ‘broader work will continue’, funding ‘must now see the immediate and rapid development of a timetable for the removal of unsafe cladding which will start as soon as practicably possible’.
NFCC chair Roy Wilsher said: ‘NFCC’s role in working with Government and representing the views of fire services has been instrumental in bringing about the announcement. I am very pleased to see this funding announced although I would have liked to have seen it made earlier. Leaseholders have been living with uncertainty and anxiety, in part due to them facing very high costs to pay for temporary “waking watch” and evacuation measures just to keep buildings safe while they are covered in dangerous cladding.
‘This anxiety is having a terrible and detrimental impact on people’s lives through no fault of their own. I am disappointed that many building owners did not step up to their responsibilities and take steps to rectify this much earlier, instead choosing to place the burden on people living within buildings clad in dangerous material.
‘NFCC has been abundantly clear in all our work with government since the Grenfell Tower fire that fundamental reform of the building safety system is needed. NFCC will continue to call for change and work with government departments to ensure this becomes a reality.’
Joe Arnold, managing director of surveyors Arnold & Baldwin, was ‘encouraged’ but agreed it ‘needs go further’, adding: ‘One of the unresolved issues was amongst homeowners living in high-rise blocks across the country with similar cladding to that used on Grenfell and there has been a huge amount of confusion and frustration about how this might impact the value of their property and numerous reports of zero valuations given on apartments in high-rise buildings.
‘A process has been agreed by the industry to allow surveyors, lenders, building owners and fire safety experts to establish a value for high-rise properties with combustible materials. This will help identify where buildings are safe and, for those that are not, the Building Safety Fund will provide an important pot of money to improve the situation for many people living in high rise properties.
‘It may not be a big enough pot, however, and some commentators have speculated that to carry out works on all affected properties is likely to cost much closer to £10bn than £1bn. I would also like to see the offer extended to all buildings with combustible cladding, whether or not they are taller than 18m. There are many thousands of people who live in low-rise properties with cladding whose property values have been similarly negatively impacted.
‘It will take time to understand exactly how the fund will work and how long it will take to complete the work – but it is certainly a step in the right direction.’