Government urged to ‘fully’ fund HPL cladding removal

Government urged to ‘fully’ fund HPL cladding removal

AFTER THE government’s recent reveal of high pressure laminate (HPL) cladding risks when partnered with combustible insulation, leaseholders have demanded funding removal.

Recently, the government undertook a test with the Fire Protection Association (FPA) of a particular combination of HPL cladding, and though that particular combination passed, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has warned action must be taken ‘as soon as possible’ to make HPL panels safe ‘particularly’ if used on buildings with combustible insulation.

That new advice also said that some HPL panels are ‘very unlikely to adequately resist the spread of fire’, and both Inside Housing and The Guardian reported on the government’s expert panel’s view. The panel, including National Fire Chiefs Council chair Roy Wilsher, said it had become clear that many HPL panels were ‘very unlikely to adequately resist the spread of fire’, and that ‘building owners with these systems should immediately take action […] to remediate unsafe HPL’.

Around 100 further residential towers could be affected, with the panel’s order applying to ‘most forms’ of HPL, categorised by fire resistance. Systems below Class B should not be used, as well as if used with combustible insulation, though Class B with non combustible insulation passed the FPA test and Class A was considered safe.

Leaseholders urged the government to fund removal, and argued that the recent positive test result ‘changed nothing’ for those facing huge bills for removal and replacement. The UK Cladding Action Group (UKCAG) and Manchester Cladiators renewed their calls for the government to fund removal of combustible cladding and insulation.

A UKCAG spokesperson stated it was ‘regrettable that the decision took so long’ and calling for an ‘expanded building safety fund’ to remove all dangerous cladding and address other outstanding issues, adding: ‘There is no choice. If politicians are serious about making buildings safe, they must expand their funding to cover high-pressure laminate cladding systems and they must do it now.’

In parliament, Labour’s shadow housing minister Sarah Jones asked about the deadline for removing HPL and who will cover costs, adding that ‘this could affect up to 1,700 blocks. The secretary of state has known since last October that this cladding failed a fire test. No building should be covered with lethal materials and there are lives at stake, so can I ask the secretary of state: how many buildings are covered in this lethal cladding? What is the deadline for the removal of this cladding? And will the government fund its removal?’

She later added: ‘The government must immediately require building owners to check for this cladding, as they did with ACM, so we know the scale of this problem. Ministers must set a hard deadline to replace all dangerous cladding and toughen sanctions against block owners that won’t do the work.’

James Oates, a resident of the Skyline Central 1 block in Manchester and a member of the Manchester Cladiators, said residents faced ‘sleepless nights and untold stress’ after discovering the building had HPL and combustible insulation, with bills of up to £20,000 potentially to pay. He said: ‘Despite the pass, the government has accepted that HPL with combustible insulation should be removed. This covers most real-world buildings – including ours.

‘The government must acknowledge its previous mistakes and expand its current cladding removal fund to pay for this work. This is the only way to ensure that the work is done promptly and that leaseholders don’t face crippling bills. That’s why we are saying to the government that it’s time to stop delaying, stop running tests that we already know the results of, and finally do the right thing by committing to fund the works to make all cladding systems safe.’

The Guardian surmised that the order is ‘likely to fuel fears that further fire safety problems could yet emerge’, with MHCLG’s director of the building safety programme Neil O’Connor having written to all local authorities with a request to ‘identify the external wall materials and insulation used on every high-rise residential building over 18 metres tall in council or private ownership in their areas’, as well as social housing landlords.

An MHCLG spokesperson said: “The fact is public safety is our utmost priority, which is why we’ve published test results and expert advice. We will publish further test results later this summer. We’re very clear – no buildings in this country should have the combination of HPL cladding and combustible insulation.

‘Building owners are legally responsible for ensuring the safety of their buildings and they must ensure this is the case. There should be no buildings in this country with this combination of cladding and insulation. They should be well aware of their responsibilities as we issued clear-cut advice in December 2017, reinforced last December, telling them to check that only safe cladding and insulation combinations had been used on their buildings.’