THE HOUSING, Communities and Local Government Committee (HCLGC) published a report that found ‘fixing fire safety defects’ in high risk residential buildings could cost up to £15bn.
Mail Online reported on the HCLGC report, which estimated that fixing ‘all serious fire safety defects’ in high risk residential buildings could cost up to £15bn, with ‘some 2,000’ residential buildings still covered in combustible cladding and ‘thousands of homeowners sleeping in potential fire-traps every night’. It also warned that the £1bn cladding funding announced by the government ‘will cover just one-third of the highest-risk blocks’ in England.
The report, Cladding: Progress of Remediation, called on the government to pay the ‘exorbitant costs’ of temporary safety measures ‘currently being footed by blameless leaseholders’, and to take legal action ‘against building owners who have dragged their heels’. It added of the fund that ‘stringent rules on applying’, such as the short application window and ‘restrictions’ against social housing providers, risk ‘leaving many unable to access vital funding’.
The building safety fund should also ‘be increased to address all fire safety defects in every high-risk residential building’, which could ‘potentially’ cost up to £15bn in total. It called on the government to ‘ensure all buildings of any height’ with aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding ‘be fully remediated of all fire safety defects by December 2021’, and that buildings with other defects ‘including non-ACM cladding’ be remediated by June 2022.
Finally, it calls for any residential building ‘where works have not commenced by December’ this year to be ‘subject to’ a compulsory purchase order (CPO), and for a new national body to be ‘created to step in’ when councils are ‘unable or unwilling’ to act. A ‘hard line’ should be taken against ‘slow-moving’ building owners, with CPOs allowing councils or the government to ‘take direct ownership of the freehold of buildings with serious fire safety defects’.
The report stated: ‘Residents are facing life-changing bills for more than just combustible cladding. If the Government doesn't provide additional funding, let us be clear: it means tens of thousands of residents sent massive bills for problems that aren't their fault, and which, in many cases, will be a financial burden from which they will never recover.
‘It means thousands fewer affordable homes, as councils and housing associations are forced to divert funds to remediation projects; and worst of all, it will mean that some works are never carried out.’
The report added that around 300 residential blocks in England are still clad in ACM, while ‘around 1,700 more’ have ‘some form’ of combustible cladding, and while the government had pledged £600m in total for removing ACM from private and social housing blocks as well as the £1bn in new funding, the committee said ‘this would cover only around 600 of the 1,700 buildings’, and that the government was ‘clearly trying to find ways to fit a £3 billion liability into a £1 billion funding pot’.
It also criticised the tight deadline for building owners to apply for the £1bn programme between 1 June and 31 July, and that this would be allocated on a ‘first come, first served’ basis – alongside any works begun before March 2020 not being covered. With only cladding removal being funded, this means funds ‘do not stretch to other serious fire safety defects’, such as combustible insulation, timber balconies and walkways, ‘missing’ compartmentation and ‘faulty’ fire doors.
On Grenfell, ahead of the third anniversary of the fire, the HCLGC concluded that the victims had paid ‘a terrible price for a catastrophic failure of industry and Government’, with a government spokesman responding: ‘The safety of residents is our top priority and since the Grenfell Tower fire we have worked tirelessly with councils to identify buildings at risk and ensure they are made safe.
‘We are providing £1.6 billion for the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings and are bringing forward the biggest legislative changes in a generation to provide further enforcement powers against those who do not comply with the law and ensuring that residents’ safety is at the heart of the construction process.
‘Building owners have a legal responsibility to keep their residents safe and whilst we have seen positive action from some, we are clear that more needs to be done to protect their tenants.’
HCLGC chair Clive Betts MP added: ‘We have challenged the Government to finally commit to removing all forms of dangerous cladding once and for all. Three years on from the Grenfell Tower disaster there are still thousands of home owners living in buildings with some form of dangerous cladding.
‘The financial and emotional toll has been significant, with temporary safety measures costing huge sums and the ongoing stress of living in a property that may not be safe. This is not good enough. It is clear that the £1 billion Building Safety Fund will not be enough. Too many risk being excluded by the criteria for accessing this support and the amount of money pledged is only enough to cover a fraction of the work needed.
‘The Fund should be increased so that it is enough to cover the amount of work that is actually needed, both to remove cladding a resolve wider fire safety concerns. Further support must also be provided for the costs of stop-gap safety measures, such as ‘waking watches’, to reduce the burden on homeowners.
‘This should not just be a question of the Government, and therefore the taxpayer, stepping in with a blank cheque. Those who have caused, and in some cases refuse to rectify, safety issues must be made to pay. We call on the Government to consider taking legal action to recover the cost of works on individual buildings. Compulsory Purchase Order powers should be used to take direct ownership of buildings where owners have failed to begin remedial work by December 2020.
‘It is time for the Government to commit to end the scourge of dangerous cladding once and for all. A piecemeal approach that will see homeowners facing many more years of stress and financial hardship. This is not an option.’