THE GREATER Manchester High Rise Task Force has provided a written submission to the housing, communities and local government committee that the funding ‘will not be enough’ to make high rise buildings safe from fire.
About Manchester reported on the task force’s submission to the committee (HCLG), in which it stated that the £1bn funding announced in the budget earlier this year ‘will not be enough to make high rise and high risk buildings safe from fire’, and adding that buildings in Greater Manchester alone ‘may need a quarter’ of the funding. This submission is the task force’s ‘latest joint effort’ to ‘ensure that the issues facing residents are understood and addressed’.
Since 2017, the task force – made up of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS), the area’s ten local authorities, universities, housing providers and ‘other key services’ – has worked to ‘try and ensure the safety of residents’ across the area living in high rise buildings, with its submission directed to HCLG’s inquiry on cladding remediation.
This ‘made clear’ that while the funding was a ‘welcome development’ and targets cladding other than aluminium composite material (ACM), it ‘will not be sufficient to address the fire safety deficiencies in high rise buildings let alone other high risk premises’. The task force also pointed out that the average cost for remediating buildings in Greater Manchester is around £4m, which means ‘approximately 25%’ of the fund ‘could be required’ for high rises in the area ‘alone’.
To date, over a fifth of high rises in the area have identified ‘significant fire safety deficiencies relating to their construction or refurbishment’, and the task force pointed out that ‘if this is representative of the national picture’, then over 2,000 high rises nationwide ‘are likely to be affected’. While £600m has been made available for remediating around 500 ACM clad buildings, ‘there’s no evidence to suggest’ that remediating non ACM and other issues ‘will cost less’.
The task force also ‘made clear’ that the new fund ‘should not be restricted to replacing cladding’ on buildings 18m or taller, with funding needing to be made available ‘to ensure all affected buildings are made safe’, and the application process ‘must also be simplified and steps taken to ensure there is sufficient time for applications to be made’. The evidence and submission were handed to the committee by Salford mayor Paul Dennett, who has chaired the task force since it began in 2017.
Mr Dennett ‘reiterated concerns that have been repeatedly raised’ with the government, including the ‘failure to act to improve’ building control, ‘not acting’ on concerns about the ‘arbitrary and ineffective’ 18m height threshold and the ‘failure to waive VAT on essential fire safety works’. He commented: ‘While I welcome the government’s creation of the Building Safety Fund, it’s simply not enough.
‘Residents in Greater Manchester are worried sick about living in buildings which have been assessed as unsafe if there is a fire. This is compounded during the coronavirus crisis with many residents staying at home as much as possible to protect themselves and others. Not only do they live with the anxiety of a fire occurring in their building, many now risk losing their jobs and face mounting costs for essential interim fire safety measures and increased insurance and mortgage costs.
‘The Committee heard directly from the Manchester Cladiators about how this national industrial crisis is affecting residents many of whom feel their lives are on hold. In Greater Manchester we have and will continue to do all we can to support our residents but the government must act to ensure there is immediate assistance and confirm that adequate funds will be made available to ensure the safety of all affected buildings.
‘It’s not good enough to leave people wondering if the money will run out before remediation work reaches their building.’
Manchester Cladiators added: ‘The government need to be held to account for their failed strategy and severe delays so far. Much greater urgency is needed. We echo the comments of the Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force that more funding is needed and those who are currently ineligible need funding too – such as those living in buildings under 18m, those with fire safety issues which don’t involve cladding and those who have already paid for works to be completed.
‘An urgent review of interim measures is also needed and residents’ views and experience should be meaningfully taken into account in finalising the details of the Fund. Finally we want to say a huge thank you for the unwavering support of GMCA, GMFRS and our local Councillors and MPs.’
In February, the task force – spearheaded by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Mr Dennett - called on the government to ‘take immediate action to support high rise residents living in unsafe buildings’, alongside residents’ groups. Having heard the ‘growing concerns’ of such residents in the region, both mayors were ‘taking this issue to parliament’ ahead of the budget on 11 March, to make sure that ‘the voices of affected residents are heard by those with the power to change the law and fix what is an industrial scale regulatory crisis within the UK’.
Both mayors, and residents and activists from Manchester and London, gathered outside Westminster on 25 February to ‘highlight the human impact of the ongoing crisis’ and ‘give those present an opportunity to share their experiences and concerns’. The lobby also called the government to ‘do more to support those living in negative equity and in potentially dangerous high rise buildings’, not only in Manchester ‘but across the country’.
The task force had released the Greater Manchester High Rise Residents Report, after a survey undertaken with residents last year that provides ‘new insights into the fire safety concerns and financial burdens faced by residents’, while also ‘demonstrating the severity of the issues residents continue to deal with’.