MPs urge government to fund cladding removal
A NUMBER of MPs have called on the government to ‘urgently release’ funds to ‘accelerate’ removal of combustible cladding on 54 social housing blocks and ‘dozens more’ private high rises.
In January, it was revealed that only three council owned high rises were the only such buildings nationwide to be reclad, out of 160 that failed the government’s fire safety tests. The government’s pace of response was attacked by Labour as ‘simply not good enough’, with the details having emerged amid the issues regarding councils requesting government 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 Tamara Finkelstein, the director general of building safety for the ministry of housing, communities and local government, saw her tell a parliamentary select committee that the department ‘has received inquiries from 36 councils about financial help’, but that ‘so far none have been approved’.
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’.
More recently, residents of the Citiscape complex in Croydon were told original developers Barratt Homes will pay for removal of flammable cladding, having previously been told they would have to pay £31,300 per flat to fund removal and replacement, and been ordered to pay after a tribunal decided against them.
Earlier this year, the New Capital Quay complex in Greenwich, found to have ‘multiple’ fire safety issues, saw residents concerned they would have to pay an estimated £20m to £40m bill, or around £20,000 to £40,000 per flat to resolve issues and remove cladding. Developers Galliard Homes planned to sue the National House Building Council (NHBC) over payment, while resident Cecile Langevin discovered her flat’s value had fallen from £475,000 to £50,000 as a result.
It later transpired that government body Homes England ‘agreed to virtually wipe out’ her loan, which ‘raises the prospect of multimillion-pound losses for the government scheme on any flat that goes into negative equity’. Residents of New Capital Quay are considering legal action against Galliard Homes over combustible cladding replacement costs.
In April meanwhile, residents of the Sesame apartments in Battersea were told they will have to pay individual bills of up to £40,000 to replace flammable cladding. The residents ‘fear they are trapped in unsellable homes’, with the freehold company claiming it was ‘not responsible for the costs’ as its duty was to the ‘unnamed pension fund which owned the freehold and on whose behalf the firm managed the building’.
The Guardian has now reported on the MPs’ call for the release of funds for cladding removal, with legal disputes over liability ‘holding up works’. The 44 MPs told the new Housing Secretary James Brokenshire that ‘our constituents […] need you to act now’, with only seven of the 304 buildings now confirmed to have completed works. The call also builds on the new evacuation guidance launched recently on evacuation by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC).
The letter added that ‘nearly a year after Grenfell, not enough has been done to prevent another fire. There is overwhelming public support for action to protect these people from fire. Leaseholders facing unaffordable debt, unsaleable homes and who fear for their safety need help now. You cannot leave them living in limbo for years while the courts establish legal liability.
‘In the end this is about the protection of human life and the right of every family in this country to know their home is safe. We urge the government to accept responsibility for putting things right because no one else can.’