Private landlords ‘trying to hide presence’ of flammable cladding

Private landlords ‘trying to hide presence’ of flammable cladding

A DIRECTOR of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) stated that some private landlords in the UK are ‘trying to hide the fact that their buildings’ have the same cladding as Grenfell Tower.

Evening Standard reported on the views of Gary Strong, global building standards director at RICS, who told the Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning Committee that private tower block landlords are ‘trying to hide [the] presence of Grenfell-style cladding’, as they do not want to disclose they have ‘a really expensive problem’, with some ‘very reluctant’ to even have their cladding tested.

Mr Strong stated: ‘We know from confidential phone calls we have been fielding in our dedicated team at the RICS that people have said, “We think we have ACM [aluminium composite material] cladding but we do not want to tell the Government about it.” There is an issue there where some of these institutional owners do not want to disclose the fact that they might have a really expensive problem on their hands and they do not really know how they are going to resolve it, either.’

On being asked if owners were ‘playing it fast and loose’ with safety, Mr Strong said that he agreed ‘there is an ethical and moral issue here’, and noted that RICS believes the problem is ‘much bigger’ in the private sector, suggesting that the number of private buildings with ACM cladding was ‘double the official figure’ of 300.

In June, the government revealed that 156 further privately owned high rises across the UK are wrapped in combustible cladding similar to that used on Grenfell Tower, and it ‘expected’ numbers to ‘rise further’, as another 170 private sector blocks’ cladding status is ‘still to be confirmed’. Progress on private buildings is ‘proving slower’ as freeholders are arguing that leaseholders should pay bills.

Housing Minister James Brokenshire stated earlier this year: ‘Fire and rescue services are working with building owners to ensure residents are safe now. But I want to see swifter progress in removing unsafe cladding. I have been clear that leaseholders should be protected from unfair costs and we expect the industry to do the right thing. If they don’t, I will continue to explore other routes and I am not ruling anything out.’

A taskforce is due to be set up to help councils identify cladding types on private buildings ‘amid growing concern that officials still do not know’, with MHCLG having previously ordered councils to identify buildings wrapped in ACM ‘by the end of May’. Ministers are said to be frustrated that private landlords ‘have not come forward in sufficient numbers’ to confirm cladding types.

In July, government statistics revealed that only two new projects ‘got under way’ in a month to remove flammable cladding from privately owned buildings, while only a quarter have plans in place. Of all privately owned buildings with ACM cladding, 23 had started the process of removing cladding by 12 July, ‘only two more’ than by 14 June.

Four further buildings with ACM cladding had been identified in that time, taking the total up to 301, while 74% of buildings with ACM ‘having not informed’ MHCLG of ‘any plans to remove the cladding’, a small fall from 76% a month before. Around 100 buildings’ status in terms of cladding, the MHCLG added, was ‘still to be confirmed’, with between 3 to 5% of these expected to have ACM cladding.

Only 77 of 301 private sector buildings had provided MHCLG with plans of remediation work, with the ministry also pointing out that while 15 social housing buildings had been said to have completed work, this had been revised down to 13 after ‘further investigation which identified that two buildings had not been signed off by their local authority’s building control team’.

Residents of a range of privately owned blocks have either been charged for fire safety measures or have been taken to tribunals to order them to pay for the removal of cladding. Such situations have arisen at: Babbage Point in Greenwich; Vallea Court and Cypress Place in Manchester; the NV Buildings in Salford Quays; and Victoria Wharf in Tower Hamlets.

A few building companies and insurers elected to cover the cost of cladding replacement after tribunals and loss of value in other complexes, including New Capital Quay and Greenwich Square in Greenwich, as well as Citiscape in Croydon.