William Eichler 16 September 2020

Committee condemns ‘pie-in-the-sky’ cladding promises

Thousands of people are at risk because of ‘serious shortcomings’ in the Government’s long-term response to the Grenfell Tower fire.

A report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has revealed that three years after the Grenfell fire, only a third (155 out of 455) of high-rise buildings with flammable cladding due to be fixed by now have been replaced with a safe alternative.

The committee argued that it is ‘imperative’ that the new deadline, for works on the remaining high-rise blocks to be completed by the end of 2021, be met.

However, they also warned that the Government has no convincing plan for how it will meet the new deadline.

The Government has no plans to support residents or social landlords to meet the costs of replacing dangerous cladding in buildings below 18 metres, of providing ‘waking watches’, or of fixing other serious defects brought to light by post-Grenfell inspections.

The committee also found that the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has no knowledge of whether any of the 40,000 care homes, sheltered housing and hospitals below 18 metres in height are clad with unsafe material.

On top of the dangerous cladding issue, the PAC report also said that the MHCLG accepts that the British system of building safety regulation has been ‘not fit for purpose’ for many years.

A lack of skills, capacity, and access to insurance is hampering efforts to improve or simply assure the structural safety of apartment blocks, according to the report.

‘The Department set its own target to remove cladding and yet has failed to achieve even a third of the work it set out to deliver,’ said Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee.

‘Thousands of people have been condemned to lives of stress and fear in unsaleable homes with life-changing bills: for the works and for the fire-watch that is necessary to allow them to sleep at night until it is done.

‘The Government has repeatedly made what turn out to be pie-in-the-sky promises – and then failed to plan, resource, or deliver. The deadly legacy of a shoddy buildings regulation system has been devastating for the victims and survivors of Grenfell but is leaving a long tail of misery and uncertainty for those whose lives are in limbo.

‘The Government must step up and show that it will put a stop to the bickering over who is responsible, who’s going to pay for the remediation – and just put this right.’

An MHCLG spokesperson said: ‘We’re determined to ensure residents are safe and feel safe in their homes and are providing £1.6bn to speed up the removal of unsafe cladding. We are seeing significant progress - over 70% of buildings with ACM cladding have completed or are in the process of remediation.

‘We’re introducing the biggest improvements to building regulations in almost 40 years and a new regulator will ensure that people who design, build and manage high rise buildings are held responsible for building safety.

‘Building owners have a legal responsibility to ensure their buildings are safe and must ensure that any remaining buildings have started remediation works before the end of this year – if we do not see progress we will not hesitate to take further action.’

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