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Government’s power to force cladding removal ‘very limited’

8 July 2020

MPS HAVE been told by the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) that it has ‘very limited’ power to force overseas building owners to remove combustible cladding.

Inside Housing reported on the comments from Jeremy Pocklington at the public accounts committee (PAC), which is investigating the government’s progress towards removing combustible cladding from buildings post Grenfell. Mr Pocklington told MPs earlier this week that cladding remediation in the private sector is slower due to ‘incredibly complicated ownership structures involving overseas financial investors’.

He added that ‘it’s a sad reality that our ability to seek redress from an overseas financial investor is of course, very, very limited’, and noted in turn that often such investors do not have ‘any interest in the welfare of residents or leaseholders’. The news outlet pointed out that the government had ‘originally aimed’ to have all combustible cladding removed and replaced by June 2020, ‘but recently backed down from that deadline’.

Mr Pocklington said the government ‘now aims’ to have completed this by the end of 2021, with another factor in the ‘slow progress’ made being a ‘lack of expertise among building owners to begin work’. MHCLG’s building safety programme director Neil O’Connor told the committee: ‘We have been surprised, as have our delivery partners Homes England and the Greater London Authority, at the lack of expertise and competence among building owners to conduct these projects.’

He was asked why MHCLG had opted for a ‘first-come-first-served’ approach to cladding remediation funding as well, and responded that taking a ‘risk-based’ approach would ‘require assessing individual cases’, something that would ‘slow down remediation work on the whole’. Mr O’Connor also stated that MHCLG ‘would not rule out’ that further buildings could be found to have aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding.

He commented that ‘we would not say, “absolutely there’s no chance of any other buildings being identified with ACM” – it’s possible. We do believe that we have identified and reached a position of reasonable confidence that the vast majority of such buildings have been identified’. The impact of COVID-19 on remediation was highlighted by Mr Pocklington, who noted that work on 81 ‘active sites had been paused during lockdown, and 23 sites have seen work remain paused.

Mr Pocklington added however that MHCLG ‘intends to get these back up and running’ before the end of 2020.

Government’s power to force cladding removal ‘very limited’