Low-rise cladding fire safety risk flagged as ‘tip of the iceberg’

A London Council has warned that cladding remediation on low-rise residential homes “could be a national issue”.

In a news release from 5 March 2024, Barnet Council announced its plans to replace the cladding on hundreds of low-rise houses in its borough.

Safety concerns were initially raised after a significant fire incident in June 2023, when a blaze rapidly spread across four terraced homes in Moss Hall Grove, Finchley. During an investigation, UPVC cladding was found to have been installed on the exterior of the properties, which the council said had “allowed the fire to spread quickly to neighbouring homes”.   

It is understood that more than 580 terraced homes have been flagged, with the council adding that “along with the timber frame of these buildings and fire stop issues, they no longer meet more stringent post-Grenfell building standards”.

Built between the 1930s and 1960s, the affected properties are timber-framed one or two-storey terraced homes. While some homes still have the original timber cladding, some homes had UPVC cladding installed in the 1980s.

The council added that the cladding constituted a ‘Category 1 hazard’, which is the highest risk, and meant that the council had a “legal duty to take action”.

As reported by The Guardian, remediation costs look to be £17 million, with the council setting aside £3.6 million for the council properties. An additional £13 million has been secured to pay for up-front costs of freehold properties, “but homeowners will ultimately be responsible for their costs”.

153 council-owned homes will have their cladding replaced. Additionally, the remaining freehold and leasehold properties will be offered a “package of works to replace the cladding”. Subject to Cabinet approval, a loan and repayment plan could also be included. Deputy Council Leader and Cabinet Member for Homes and Regeneration, Cllr Ross Houston, said that the “cost of replacing the cladding on each property could be up to £23,000”.

We believe the 586 affected homes in Barnet are just the tip of the iceberg across the country. We’re sharing details with other local authorities and DLUHC as clearly there is a need for a national plan to raise awareness and work out how best to support homeowners.

Ours is an inherited problem relating to buildings constructed and adapted a long time ago. We recognise how hard this will be for all the homeowners who will be faced with an unexpected bill for works, but we have a legal duty to act, and the safety of our residents must come first,” he added.

Alongside other local authorities and the government, the council added that it had briefed the London Fire Brigade, housing associations, and housing bodies, including the Regulator of Social Housing, to highlight the cladding issue.

The council expects work to begin in April 2024 and span three years. Homeowners and residents have been told that while their homes contain a “significant hazard”, there is no “imminent risk”. The council has also set up a ‘Fire safety for timber-framed homes’ guidance page here.

(Photograph by London Fire Brigade)