Government still awaiting cladding research

Government still awaiting cladding research

THE MINISTRY of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is still waiting for recommendations on cladding removal nine months after commissioning research.

Inside Housing reported on the nine month wait after the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) had given the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) £250,000 to ‘devise faster ways to strip and replace unsafe [cladding] systems’. The deal had been made by the BEIS agency Innovate UK, but the government is ‘still awaiting’ the recommendations, with a source stating that the work with the MTC ‘remains ongoing’.

John Healey, the shadow Housing Secretary, was reportedly looking to submit a written question tot the government ‘asking for more information’, with MTC technicians having previously been reported to be returning final recommendations to BEIS and MHCLG ‘in November’. A spokesperson for BEIS denied this and said it was ‘not aware of this deadline’, adding that the MTC will report back to the MHCLG once it has concluded its research.

Additionally, a spokesperson for the MTC stated that ‘unfortunately we are not in a position to provide any further information at this stage’. Yesterday, Housing Secretary James Brokenshire told parliament that he has ‘not ruled anything out’ for private sector building owners ‘that refuse to meet the costs’ of replacing cladding.

Recently, the issue was illuminated by original developer of Croydon site Citiscape – Barratt Homes – stepping in to fund cladding replacement, after a tribunal had found against tenants, who might have had to pay £31,000 each to replace the flammable cladding. 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’.

MPs wrote to the government to implore it to ‘urgently release’ funds to ‘accelerate’ removal of combustible cladding, as 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’.