Rob Perrins, the CEO of the Berkeley Group, tells the Times today that there needs to be a risk-based approach to the remediation of cladding sites rather than a blanket ban on various types of cladding.
This echoes the approach of LKP, repeated most recently in our submission to the Communities Select Committee chaired by Clive Betts MP.
Mr Perrins is quoted: “It shouldn’t be ‘all ACM should be removed’ or all HPL’ [high pressure laminate cladding] should be removed. It’s low risk. There should be a risk-based approach on the whole building.”
This is the first time a leading housebuilder has called out the incoherence behind the government’s thinking on the cladding crisis.
Cladding was found to be the main reason why the Grenfell fire spread so rapidly, but LKP has long argued that fire safety issues would go way beyond ACM cladding.
One of Britain’s biggest upmarket housebuilders has said that the government should relax a ban on combustible cladding imposed after the Grenfell Tower fire. Berkeley Group is yet to complete the renovation of 20 tall buildings featuring the same type of cladding involved in the Grenfell disaster, which led to the deaths of 72 people three years ago.
After failing to persuade speculators in residential freeholds to pay up to remediate their building – not one has done so – the then Communities Secretary raided his housing budget for £200 million for ACM remediation and hoped that would be enough.
That was swollen by another £1 billion in March 2020. The money comes with inconsistencies – excluding buildings under 18 metres high; sites where remediation work started before March 2020 (why?); sites that do not apply for funding within the next two months …
A further absurdity is that three years after Grenfell the government has only paid out £1.2 million for ACM remediation.
We seem to have adopted a bureaucrats’ tick-box solution: throw money at sites with cladding and exclude thinking about failings in fire safety.
Unaccountably, the officials responsible for the pre-Grenfell fire safety regime are still in situ, and some of our policies appear to be to spare their blushes.
The British government’s thinking stands in contrast to the more flexible, risk-based approach in Australia.
News South Wales completed its final report into building regulation and remediation at the end of last month:
Victoria allocated funding to sites in the state as follows:
- 72 were considered to pose an extreme risk to residents.
- 409 are deemed high risk.
- 388 are moderate risk.
- 200 are low risk.
They also set out a range of funding models: some sites had remediation funded by the government; some were funded by the flat owners (via their commonhold strata company using loans); in some sites developers have faced litigation; while on others the developer has volunteered to pay.
Whereas Britain’s approach is based arbitrarily on cladding material, the Australian one is based on a more thoughtful assessment of risk.
The cost of this tick-box, blinkered thinking to British taxpayers is eye-watering.
Why on earth should West India Quay, a prime site in London’s Docklands, receive a dole-out of public money for a very small amount of ACM cladding of, it appears, minimal risk?
The illogic of our approach is made worse because of England’s leasehold system: speculators in residential freehold, primarily private equity and often hidden offshore, are going to have their income streams secured and perpetuated by taxpayers.
For if the leases are valueless in these buildings, then so are the freeholds.