William Eichler 19 June 2020

Drive to replace dangerous cladding ‘lagging behind’, warn auditors

Auditors investigating the Government’s programme for replacing dangerous cladding on high-rise buildings have found that the pace of progress has ‘lagged behind’ expectations.

After the Grenfell Tower fire, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) established the Building Safety Programme. One of the programme’s main objectives was to ‘oversee and support the remediation of high-rise residential buildings that have unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding’.

In May 2018 the MHCLG announced £400m to fund remediation in the social housing sector in England. The following year it announced a further £200m for the remediation of equivalent buildings in the private housing sector.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has today published a report into the progress of the programme which says that while some progress has been made, remediation has not been as fast as originally expected, partly because of Covid-related delays.

‘MHCLG has made progress in overseeing the removal of dangerous cladding from many buildings, particularly in the social housing sector,’ said Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO.

‘However, the pace of progress has lagged behind its own expectations, particularly in the private residential sector. It has a long way to go to make all high-rise buildings safe for residents.

‘Going forward, it is important that the Department successfully manages the administrative challenges of funding building owners to carry out remediation work, particularly given its intention to commit a further £1bn in full by the end of March 2021.’

By April 2020, 149 of the total 456 buildings which are 18 metres and above and have unsafe ACM cladding systems had been fully remediated, the auditors found. This leaves 307 where remediation was not yet finished, of which work had not yet begun on 167.

Just over two thirds of student accommodation blocks and 46.8% of social housing buildings had been fully remediated, compared to 13.5% of private sector residential buildings. Progress in the private sector has been slower because those legally responsible for private buildings have been difficult to identify and have required more support than expected.

The MHCLG estimates that all buildings within scope of its funding will be remediated by mid-2022, with over 95% completed by the end of 2021.

This is later than the expectation set in July 2019 by the then Secretary of State, that ‘other than in exceptional circumstances, building owners should complete remediation…by June 2020.’

Not all buildings with dangerous ACM cladding fall within scope of the Government’s existing funding schemes for the social and private housing sectors. This includes high-rise hotels, student accommodation, and build-to-let blocks, as well as buildings below 18 metres.

The MHCLG announced a further £1bn funding in March 2020 for the remediation of unsafe non-ACM cladding on high-rise buildings in the social and private residential sectors. It has not yet established how many buildings over 18 metres have unsafe non-ACM cladding, but has used an initial estimate of around 1,700 such buildings as a working assumption.

Responding to the NAO report, Lord Porter, building safety spokesperson for the Local Government Association (LGA), said: ‘This report highlights various difficulties that have hampered remediation, including identifying the responsible person within often complex ownership structures, the complexities of state aid rules, the shortage of skills or personnel needed to complete remediation work, structural issues and difficulties of access.

‘Councils have worked closely with MHCLG to resolve these issues and ensure private building owners fulfil their responsibilities to residents.

‘The LGA will continue to support this work, but the reform of our broken building safety legislation – including the granting of effective powers and meaningful sanctions to regulators - cannot come soon enough, and as the recent HCLG Select Committee report argued, the Government will need to increase the funding available if all fire safety issues are to be resolved.’

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