THE Government’s offer to pay for the removal of unsafe cladding on highrise residential buildings doesn’t go far enough to ensure resident safety, say housing chiefs in Greater Manchester.
Around £200 million is being made available to remove and replace unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding from around 170 privately owned highrise buildings, according to the Ministry of Housing Communities & Local Government.
“It is of paramount importance that everybody is able to feel and be safe in their homes,” said the Prime Minister, Theresa May. “That’s why we asked building owners in the private sector to take action and make sure appropriate safety measures were in place.
“And we’ve seen a number of private building owners doing the right thing and taking responsibility, but unfortunately too many are continuing to pass on the costs of removal and replacement to leaseholders.
“I can confirm we will now be fully funding the replacement of cladding on high-rise private residential buildings so residents can feel confident they are secure in their homes.”
Communities secretary James Brokenshire MP added: “Although temporary measures are in place to ensure people living in these buildings are safe, too many owners are treating this as a permanent fix. Others are trying to pass on the costs to residents by threatening them with bills running to thousands of pounds.
“While some building owners have been swift to act, and I thank them for doing the right thing, I am now calling time on the delay tactics of others. If these reckless building owners won’t act, the Government will.”
The announcement was welcomed by the Greater Manchester High Rise Taskforce (GMHRTF), but with the caveat that the measure falls short of reassuring residents of affected buildings – and could even weaken efforts to deliver more social rented homes.
“[T]his does not go far enough to ensure the safety of residents in highrise buildings. Nor is there yet enough clarity as to which buildings are and are not covered by this announcement,” said Paul Dennett, Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s housing lead, who also chairs the taskforce.
“Similarly, it seems that the £200 million of funding is being diverted by the secretary of state from other important housing projects and it is unknown what impact this will have on the Government’s affordable housing programme and commitment to building much needed new social rented properties. There is a very real danger of a fractured and broken regulatory system resulting in a safety lottery for residents.
“The Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force has repeatedly urged Government to make money available to fund essential fire safety work in private blocks of flats. It is vital to ensure leaseholders are not hit with crippling, life-changing bills.
“Alongside the Mayor of Greater Manchester, the Leader of Manchester City Council and a host of others, I signed the recent open End Our Cladding Scandal letter, calling on Government to set up a fund to pay for all unsafe residential homes to be made safe, both inside and out and including non-ACM systems; to commit to completing the work within two years; and to pledge that those who have spent their life savings on interim measures will be recompensed.”
The latest figures show that 156 private buildings are yet to start works on removing and replacing ACM cladding, compared to 23 in the social sector.
Lesley McLeod, chief executive of the Association for Project Safety (APS), said: “Safety needs to be built in so, while the Government’s commitment to additional funding to replace highrise cladding is welcome, it is better sense to tackle construction risks at the outset.
“The APS believes it is vital everyone who lives in a highrise home can be confident they are safe so safety must be the priority right from the planning stage.
“Safety is at the core of good design and the APS remains committed to working with the Government and other professionals in the construction sector to promote and share good practice, as well as making sure everyone can build the skills and knowledge, they need to make Britain’s building better.
“The APS welcomes the use of public funds to make highrise buildings safer, but we are concerned the timetable is very tight and that funds may prove insufficient – we believe it is better to do things right than force a potentially unrealistic deadline and budget on the project.”
Lord Gary Porter, chair of the Local Government Association, said: “This announcement will come as an enormous relief to leaseholders who are in no way to blame for the dangerous cladding on their homes. They have suffered for far too long.
“Since the LGA first raised their plight, we have been working with MHCLG to ensure the Treasury provided the necessary funding, and it is great that we have been listened to.
“Reputable developers have done the right thing and paid for buildings to be fixed, but it would be wrong if the taxpayer had to pay the bills of those developers and contractors who are responsible for this crisis.
“It is therefore right that, while the Government has committed to cover the cost temporarily, it has also said it will do everything in its power to ensure those responsible for the installation of unsafe cladding and insulation on their buildings, or indeed their insurers, eventually pay the full cost for its removal and replacement.”
The Chartered Institute of Housing said the Prime Minister’s announcement was “very welcome”.
“Almost two years since the Grenfell Tower tragedy, it is quite frankly unacceptable that so many private tower blocks have been left with dangerous cladding, leaving thousands of people living in fear,” said Terrie Alafat CBE, the organisation’s chief executive.
Dennett added: “In Greater Manchester our task force has prioritised working hard with partners and residents to ensure the safety of highrise buildings. We know, and have repeatedly told Government, that the problems in highrise buildings are not restricted to ACM cladding. There are at least 64 blocks across Greater Manchester where leaseholders are facing significant costs for work and living with uncertainty about the safety of their buildings.
“While this funding might relieve anxiety and help residents in those blocks which have ACM cladding, the tragedy at Grenfell occurred almost two years ago. It is shameful it has taken Government so long to respond to what has quite clearly been an emergency situation requiring swift and decisive action to address what is clearly an industrial and systemic crisis. It is simply unacceptable that this response has taken so long and yet still leaves many in unsafe buildings and facing huge bills.
“We already know that building regulations are simply not fit for purpose following Government’s own commissioned independent review. We call again on Government to make further funding available urgently for all blocks and to cover all essential fire safety work. Leaseholders must not be left to pick up the bill.”