Cladding removal

THE PUBLIC accounts committee (PAC) published a report in which it condemned the ‘badly missed’ target to make homes with combustible cladding safe, and the government’s ‘system-wide failure’.

In a press release, the PAC stated that the ‘not fit for purpose’ building regulations system, and a ‘system-wide failure’ that has led to the ‘badly missed’ target to make ‘thousands of Grenfell-style cladding homes safe’, have left thousands of people ‘to live in fear and financial limbo’. The committee noted that three years after the Grenfell Tower fire, only one third – or 155 of 455 – high rise buildings with combustible aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding have had it replaced.

The cladding was ‘due to be fixed by now’ according to the government’s previous deadline of June 2020, and the PAC report said it was ‘imperative’ that the new deadline – the end of 2021 – for works on remaining high rises to be completed, ‘be met’. It said that the government ‘has no convincing plan for how it will meet that new deadline though’, and ‘even if it does there are a host of other serious shortcomings exposed’ by Grenfell ‘that also need to be addressed’.

While the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has accepted that the British building safety regulation has not been ‘fit for purpose’ for ‘many years’, these failings ‘have left a legacy of problems’ for MHCLG to address ‘which extend far beyond the immediate need to remove dangerous cladding’.

In turn, a ‘lack of skills, capacity and access to insurance’ is said to be ‘hampering efforts to improve or simply assure the structural safety of apartment blocks’, which itself ‘knocks on to any ability to restore the confidence of buyers and mortgage lenders’ in nationwide flat sales. Leaseholders are also ‘in limbo and facing huge bills’ due to the ‘system-wide failure’, even after the government’s extra £1bn funding announced in March for removing other forms of combustible cladding.

The PAC said that ‘even by its own estimates’, the government’s budget ‘will meet only around a third of the total costs’, and that otherwise it ‘has no plans to support residents or social landlords to meet the costs’ of replacing combustible cladding on buildings below 18m, nor providing waking watches or ‘fixing other serious defects brought to light by post-Grenfell inspections’.

While MHCLG, according to the PAC, ‘also recognises that care homes would be at additional risk due to the difficulties in evacuating residents in the event of a fire’, the ministry has ‘no knowledge’ of whether any of the 40,000 care homes, sheltered housing and hospitals below 18m ‘are clad with unsafe material’.

PAC chair Meg Hillier stated: ‘The Department set its own target to remove cladding and yet has failed to achieve even a third of the work it set out to deliver. Thousands of people have been condemned to lives of stress and fear in unsaleable homes with life-changing bills: for the works and for the fire-watch that is necessary to allow them to sleep at night until it is done.

‘The government has repeatedly made what turn out to be pie-in-the-sky promises – and then failed to plan, resource, or deliver. The deadly legacy of a shoddy buildings regulation system has been devastating for the victims and survivors of Grenfell but is leaving a long tail of misery and uncertainty for those whose lives are in limbo. The Government must step up and show that it will put a stop to the bickering over who is responsible, who’s going to pay for the remediation – and just put this right.’