Only three council blocks reclad since Grenfell
THE THREE council owned high rises are the only ones nationwide to be reclad of 160 that failed the government’s fire safety tests.
The Guardian reported on the figures released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which found that the number of high rise buildings – both council and private owned – that have cladding that failed the government’s fire safety tests has risen to 312. Of the 160 social housing towers that failed the tests, only three have been reclad, with the government’s ‘pace of response condemned’.
In summary, the ministry’s statistics showed that ‘almost all’ of the 312 buildings are ‘likely to be in breach of building regulations on fire safety’, and officials ‘predict the numbers will continue to rise’. Just over 100 towers that are ‘home to people who rent from councils and registered social landlords’ have not had cladding removed, while 17 have seen removal and another nine have seen the process of recladding begin.
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. Four were recently reported to be set to receive funding, after a recent 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’.
Nottingham City Council criticised the government for not responding to repeated funding requests, having decided it would ‘forge ahead’ regardless. In November it criticised the government’s ‘mixed messages’ on funding, having had an earlier request refused by then Housing Minister Alok Sharma. Mr Sharma’s view was that fire safety measures were ‘additional rather than essential’, and that costs should be undertaken by the local authority ‘without any further financial assistance’.
In a letter, he told the council that ‘local authorities should draw on existing resources to implement these measures’, and that the government would only ‘consider the removal of financial constraints for local authorities where these stand in the way of essential work being done’. Of the 36 inquiries for funding, nine were from councils that had buildings with cladding that failed the government’s fire safety tests, with another 10 asked to ‘supply extra information’.
The Guardian added that Camden Borough Council has ‘stripped the cladding and insulation from five towers’ and has estimated the cost of replacing it at £50m, seeking government support. With the work not set to be completed until next summer, temperatures inside the blocks ‘have dropped because of a lack of insulation’, while the council has promised to pay tenants ‘extra heating bills’. In turn, at Salford’s nine council housing towers ‘not all of the material has been removed’, with the local council having also previously demanded government assistance.
John Healey, the shadow housing secretary, commented: ‘More than seven months after the Grenfell Tower fire, it should shame ministers that only three blocks with dangerous cladding have had it replaced. Only one in four of Grenfell survivors have a new permanent home, the government still can’t confirm how many highrise buildings are unsafe and ministers are refusing to help with any funding for essential fire safety work in the blocks they do know are dangerous. It’s simply not good enough.’
Housing Secretary Sajid Javid told parliament today that the government was ‘ready to provide whatever financial flexibility’ might be needed for work to be carried out. Mr Healey contended that no councils have received funding yet, while Mr Javid conceded recladding ‘would take time’. He did note however that safety measures ‘were in place already at affected blocks’, with the government’s priority ‘securing safety’.