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Over 20% of Greater Manchester high rises have combustible cladding

2 June 2020

A FREEDOM of information request revealed that over one in every five high rises in the region had combustible cladding ‘so dangerous’ that it ‘required removal’.

Inside Housing reported on the data released in response to its request, which outlined that by February 2020 121 of about 500 high rises in Greater Manchester were found to have ‘dangerous cladding systems’ in the two and a half years since the Grenfell Tower fire. Of these 121, 64 had aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, and 57 had ‘dangerous systems of a variety of other kinds’.

The majority of the buildings identified ‘moved at least temporarily’ to evacuation strategies as a consequence, so fire alarms or waking watches were ‘generally required to alert residents of the need to evacuate’. This data also revealed that 78 buildings had interim measures still ‘in place’ due to fire safety issues, while the 43 were ‘already remediated’. Of the 78, 21 have ACM cladding while the other 57 have ‘issues of other kinds’.

Those included high pressure laminate (HPL) cladding, timber cladding, combustible insulation, wooden balconies, missing cavity barriers, ‘a lack of adequate’ compartmentation and ‘unprotected’ steelwork. Of those 78, 19 were owned by social landlords and 59 by private leaseholders. In response to the figures, Salford mayor and chair of the Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force Paul Dennett said he believed the issues were ‘symptomatic of a national problem’.

He commented: ‘We’ve always been clear that this is a regulatory failure, it’s an industrial crisis. It’s quite clear to me that the issue is around the building regulations: how they’ve been interpreted and how the industry has applied that against the backdrop of deregulation of the construction industry over a number of years.’

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. It had released the Greater Manchester High Rise Residents Report, after a survey undertaken last year that provides ‘new insights into the fire safety concerns and financial burdens faced by residents […] demonstrating the severity of the issues residents continue to deal with’.

The taskforce has overseen joint inspections by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) to ‘establish the prevalence of dangerous cladding’, with GMFRS having agreed an action plan to cover interim measures and remediation with building owners. It has also ‘actively encouraged’ use of fire alarms in Greater Manchester, setting up a procurement framework that building owners and landlords can access.

Results so far suggest that this ‘has helped limit the reliance on expensive waking watches in the city’, with only 32 of the aforementioned 78 buildings currently relying on them. Mr Dennett said: ‘Generally it is fair to say we’ve seen really good compliance with the joint inspections and the action plans coming out on a building by building basis within Greater Manchester. Where there hasn’t been initial compliance, we’ve ended up achieving that in the end.’

GMFRS’ assistant chief fire officer Tony Hunter commented: ‘I think Greater Manchester has been ahead of the curve in terms of getting the troops on the ground, getting that information from those responsible. The information we’ve got about our buildings has taken a significant amount of effort to gain.’

He also noted that enforcement powers ‘have been used sparingly’, with most measures taken up ‘by way of an agreement with building owners’, as such notices can ‘accelerate the rate’ at which work is undertaken, but ‘cannot prevent’ building owners passing on costs to leaseholders. He added: ‘We can serve the enforcement notice and yes, it might accelerate the work, but it will also accelerate the issue of service charge demands which is why we’ve tried to work with people.’

Recently, the task force 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. 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’, adding that buildings in Greater Manchester alone ‘may need a quarter’ of the funding.

Yesterday, leaseholders at the Skyline Central 1 block in Manchester said they were ‘heartbroken’ to have been excluded from the fund, as work had already begun to replace combustible cladding.

Over 20% of Greater Manchester high rises have combustible cladding