The Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force chair Paul Dennett has called on the government to provide urgent funding to remove all unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings, ahead of today’s second reading of the Fire Safety Bill.
Writing to Greater Manchester MPs, Dennett – the Mayor of Salford since 2016 – has urged the government to fund remediation work on all regulated buildings, as well as pay for the cost of interim fire safety measures currently being met by residents.
Currently, the government is only providing funding for remediation work on buildings over 18 metres tall. This is despite recent government advice confirming that all owners of multi-storey, multi-occupied residential buildings are legally required to remove and replace unsafe construction materials, regardless of the building’s height.
The GMCA’s increased concern for residents’ safety comes as COVID-19 social distancing guidelines are forcing residents in unsafe buildings to spend more time at home, while there have been several recent fires in buildings below 18 metres, such as the Cube student housing block in Bolton last year.
Dennett said: “While I welcome the certainty that the Fire Safety Bill will create for residents and housing providers, I remain concerned that government is not doing enough to protect residents from life changing bills. We have already seen how the broken regulatory system which has created an industrial crisis has impacted on high rise residents in Greater Manchester and we will no doubt see this expand to affect residents in smaller blocks of flats.
“It’s unacceptable that no government funding has been made available for remediation work on buildings below 18m despite their own advice that action should be taken in all blocks of flats.”
Dennett’s letter coincides with the second reading of the Fire Safety Bill which will pass through the House of Commons today.
The Bill aims to ensure that those responsible for residential buildings containing flats consider the risk of external fire spreading, extending the scope of the Fire Safety Order (FSO) to apply to external walls and front doors.
The government recently announced a £1 billion Building Safety Fund as part of its Budget to cover the cost of remediating dangerous cladding on high-rise buildings. However, this does not cover the cost of interim safety measures such as the installation of fire alarms.
The GMCA’s High Rise Task Force recent survey of residents found that over half of owner occupiers are facing increased service charge costs, with one reporting an increase from £90 to £400 a month.
Residents reported feeling that fire safety risks and financial costs are impacting further on their mental health and wellbeing in addition to the COVID-19 crisis.
Dennett added: “The £1 billion fund for high rise buildings announced in March does not go far enough to protect our high rise residents, who, as they spend more time ‘staying at home’ to protect the NHS and save lives, continue to face the anxiety of living in a dangerous building and meeting the costs of interim measures and increased insurance costs.
“I’m calling on the government to urgently address our concerns and make sure the removal of unsafe cladding is paid for on all buildings and that residents are not crippled with exorbitant costs just to keep themselves safe.”
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has been contacted for comment.