Industry news

Shambolic situation over removal of cladding from tower blocks

safety work at high-rise tower blocks, including the removal of dangerous cladding. Initially the problem was frustrating those in the


social housing sector, but more recently it is blighting privately owned blocks. This has left tens of thousands of residents living in potentially dangerous homes some nine months after the Grenfell Tower fire and facing huge sums to make them safe. At least 130 privately owned tower blocks (including student residences) are believed to be clad in similar panels to those that were on Grenfell. High profile cases have arisen in places like

Salford, Slough, Croydon and Greenwich where owners, landlords and managing agents are refusing to organise and pay for such works. They say they cannot afford the costs (which often run into millions of pounds) and will only commence works if leaseholders and private tenants or the taxpayer, agree to fund the costs. There are court cases taking place now to

establish where responsibility lays, with teams of lawyers scrutinising the small print of leases and tenancy agreements. Their involvement is rarely a good sign and the only certainty is that the legal fees will be high. Ministers have repeatedly urged the owners of

private tower blocks to follow the example of social landlords in progressing with and paying for safety works. Housing Secretary Sajid Javid has said: “Whatever the legal case may be, the moral case is clear that the tab should be picked up by the freeholder.”

CHALLENGES However, this view is being challenged. “The Government has suggested that landlords should pay for the works but there is no suggestion that anyone has acted inappropriately or cut corners, rather that building control approved and signed off the various types of cladding at the time and have only now tested those very systems and found them unsuitable,” said Nigel Glen, chief executive of the Association of Residential Managing Agents. And earlier this month during a Commons

debate MPs from across the political divide called on the Government to pick up the tab and take full responsibility for paying for the removal and replacement of dangerous cladding from private tower blocks. Conservative MPs featured prominently in the debate but new housing minister Dominic Raab was unmoved by their calls for financial help. Several dozen councils are known to have

written to Ministers seeking financial help with the cost of remedial works. Ministers are possibly awaiting the outcome of Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations and fire safety

he Government is being embarrassed by the current confusion over who is responsible for organising and paying for essential

practices before committing themselves, but the ongoing delays are a serious worry to the residents of affected tower blocks. Back in January we heard that four councils were

to be given either extra Housing Revenue Account borrowing flexibility or an opportunity to make a one-off transfer from their general funds to pay for the works. Another six councils were in active discussions with civil servants. It was unclear if any agreement would include covering the cost of installing sprinkler systems as well as recladding and other fire safety works. Lord Porter, who chairs the Local Government

Association, has understandably said that landlords need “urgent clarity about how they should be replacing materials on their high-rise blocks”. He added that the Government must “meet the unexpected exceptional costs” of the major remedial works. So far only about ten of the 158 social housing

tower blocks identified as dangerous after the Grenfell Tower fire, have been fully reclad with safer fire resistant materials. Many other towers stand in a state of limbo with cladding removal works only partially completed, while upto 66 blocks of flats have not had any combustible cladding removed at all despite the panels on them failing safety tests. A shortage of suitable alternative cladding and specialist labour is adding to the already protracted delays. This lack of progress contributed to the

campaign group Justice4Grenfell parading three advertising billboards outside Parliament and at other locations, with the slogans “71 dead”, “And still no arrests?” and “How come?” It was a powerful reminder to our lawmakers that people are getting impatient and want to see effective action. Labour MP Steve Reed went further than many when he accused the Prime Minister of running the risk of a second Grenfell Tower fire by failing to act on the removal of cladding from blocks.

CONCERNS AND WORRIES The construction industry and insurance sector have also waded into the debate on fire safety – so we are now unsure about the quality of the safety tests conducted on cladding materials in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire, as well as being uncertain over the advice on what materials are safe or unsafe and what additional measures need to be taken to produce effective fire retardant conditions. Over the course of the Winter temperatures

inside the flats of tower blocks being worked on dropped because of a lack of insulation. In some cases the landlords have promised to reimburse tenants the cost of their higher heating bills, but not all housing associations or councils have done this. Nor has the Government stepped in to offer assistance due to exceptional circumstances. Meanwhile residents at privately owned blocks

Reports are now emerging of growing numbers of council tenants asking to be moved from their tower block homes

are also being asked to foot the bill for the cost of fire wardens, which in many cases is costing several thousand pounds each week to provide round the clock cover. This is despite concerns being raised about the supervision, training and equipment available to the fire wardens. Worries have also been raised about the quality

and standard of fire risk assessments (FRAs) being carried out on large numbers of buildings, as doubts exist on the competency of all those involved in doing the assessments. Specific questions have been raised about the FRAs commissioned by the Kensington & Chelsea TMO, as for several months they allegedly continued to use the assessor who had cleared Grenfell Tower. Not surprisingly reports are now emerging of growing numbers of council tenants asking to be moved from their tower block homes. With the public inquiry into the Grenfell tower

due to resume hearings later this month, there are mounting calls for all the various processes to speed up so the victims and the residents of other high- rise blocks can get answers and move on with their lives. It also clear that recommendations arising from Dame Judith Hackitt’s inquiry have to be mandatory and not just desirable. Safety regulations must be implemented and backed up by the force of law, rather than being seen as an a la carte menu to be chosen from or not, by developers and landlords. | HMM March 2018 | 5

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