Housing associations call for new approach to fire safety

4 September 2019

A range of housing associations have demanded a ‘new approach’ to building and fire safety regulations, as it will ‘cost billions’ to meet standards introduced since the Grenfell Tower fire.

The Times reported on the views of housing associations on the 22 advice notes handed out on building safety regulations released since the fire in June 2017, with concerns that required changes ‘will cost billions of pounds to meet standards’. The news outlet noted that Grenfell ‘exposed significant failings in safety regulations’, and that the changes to advice set building owners ‘scrambling to respond’, specifically to cladding and insulation checks.

While the government’s funding covered cladding replacement, ‘owners are responsible for the removal of other materials deemed unsafe’, with the total costs of remedial operations ‘only beginning to become clear’. This has occurred as inspections ‘point to systemic failings’ in construction of high rise buildings in the UK, with the G15 group of London’s largest housing associations finding that upgrading its 1,145 tall buildings ‘could be as much as’ £6.9bn.

That group also estimated that it owns ‘about a sixth’ of all English building affected by the changes, so the total cost ‘could be as much’ as £40bn for the 7,000 building occupied by ‘more than a million people’. The Hyde Group owns and manages over 50,000 homes in London and the South East, and stated that all its buildings needed remedial work adding up to around £6m in some.

A series of legal disputes previously reported on have been begun ‘because in some cases it is unclear whether owners, developers, insurers or leaseholders should pay’, with the latter fearing being unable to sell homes, ‘some of which have been rendered worthless. Housing association Network homes added that it was seeking legal advice on whether associations – which have charitable status – can pay for remediation ‘that benefit[s] leaseholders’.

Additionally, other building owners have warned of a ‘lack of capacity’ in construction to carry out remedial work, which has prompted additional demand that itself is pushing up costs. Helen Evans, G15 chairwoman and chief executive of Network Homes, commented: ‘When the Grenfell fire happened there was an emergency response, but in the years afterwards, the guidance coming out of the government has tended to be piecemeal, sporadic, reactive.

‘I have become increasingly worried that we are drifting into a potentially massive issue without taking a step back and looking at it in a planned, logical, calm way that joins up all the elements.’

In turn, Hyde Housing chief executive Elaine Bailey added: ‘We all need to come together and agree what the issue is and agree an approach on how to resolve it, because it’s going to cost a fortune.’

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government responded: ‘We have issued clear advice on a range of safety issues so that no community ever faces a tragedy like Grenfell again . . . We will continue to work with industry and building owners to make sure everyone feels safe in their home.’

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Housing associations call for new approach to fire safety