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‘Up to’ 10 Southwark buildings still clad in ACM

30 July 2020

THE LONDON borough has ‘as many as’ 10 buildings with combustible aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, with between one and five of these said to have ‘yet to be remediated’.

Earlier this month, the government’s latest data release on buildings clad in ACM noted that 246 high rises still have the material ‘on them in some capacity’. The data shared by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) revealed that 246 high rises are still ‘at least part-covered’ in combustible ACM cladding ‘in some capacity’, with 142 of these having not yet started remediation work.

Of these 142, 107 are private sector residential buildings, 15 are hotels, 10 are social housing residential buildings, five are student accommodation blocks and five are publicly owned buildings. Another 104 buildings across England have begun the remediation process as of 30 June, with the London boroughs of Greenwich and Tower Hamlets – alongside Salford in Lancashire – all having over 20 buildings clad in ACM that are ‘yet to be remediated’.

Manchester and the London boroughs of Brent, Westminster, Wandsworth and Newham meanwhile all have between 11 and 20 buildings ‘needing work’. Comments were also made earlier this month by MHCLG permanent secretary Jeremy Pocklington at the public accounts committee (PAC) hearings, in which he stated that it was ‘clearly unacceptable that unsafe ACM cladding remains on any building three years after the tragedy of Grenfell’.

He added that ‘at the heart of the problem, too many building owners have not stepped up their responsibility to make sure that these buildings are safe for leaseholders and for residents’. Mr Pocklington told the PAC meeting that the government also has ‘very limited’ power to force overseas building owners to remove combustible cladding, with the PAC investigating the government’s progress towards removing combustible cladding from buildings post Grenfell.

Mr Pocklington told MPs that cladding remediation in the private sector is slower due to ‘incredibly complicated ownership structures involving overseas financial investors’. He added that ‘it’s a sad reality that our ability to seek redress from an overseas financial investor is of course, very, very limited’, and that often such investors do not have ‘any interest in the welfare of residents or leaseholders’.

The government had ‘originally aimed’ to have all combustible cladding removed and replaced by June 2020, ‘but recently backed down from that deadline’. Mr Pocklington said the government ‘now aims’ to have completed this by the end of 2021, with another factor in the ‘slow progress’ made being a ‘lack of expertise among building owners to begin work’.

MHCLG’s building safety programme director Neil O’Connor also told the committee: ‘We have been surprised, as have our delivery partners Homes England and the Greater London Authority, at the lack of expertise and competence among building owners to conduct these projects.’

He was asked why MHCLG had opted for a ‘first-come-first-served’ approach to cladding remediation funding as well, and responded that taking a ‘risk-based’ approach would ‘require assessing individual cases’, something that would ‘slow down remediation work on the whole’. Mr O’Connor also stated that MHCLG ‘would not rule out’ that further buildings could be found to have ACM cladding.

He commented that ‘we would not say, “absolutely there’s no chance of any other buildings being identified with ACM” – it’s possible. We do believe that we have identified and reached a position of reasonable confidence that the vast majority of such buildings have been identified’. The impact of COVID-19 on remediation was highlighted by Mr Pocklington, who noted that work on 81 ‘active sites had been paused during lockdown, and 23 sites have seen work remain paused.

Mr Pocklington added however that MHCLG ‘intends to get these back up and running’ before the end of 2020. Southwark News has now reported that ‘as many as ten’ and ‘between six and ten’ high rises in the London borough have ACM cladding, and of these ‘between one and five’ are listed as ‘yet to be remediated’. None of the buildings are council owned, with councillor Johnson Situ stating that the borough council had spoken to building owners ‘and would take legal action if necessary’.

He added: ‘It is a national problem that there are still buildings with potentially dangerous cladding on them and the government should be doing more to support local authorities to tackle the problem in their communities. We have a cross-council team dedicated to ensuring local landlords and building owners fulfil their safety obligations with regards to cladding, and are now working closely with the MHCLG to see which buildings may be eligible for government funding so they can get on with work as soon as possible.’

‘Up to’ 10 Southwark buildings still clad in ACM