Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick announced yesterday that work to remove combustible cladding, to which government has pledged £1.6 billion, will resume in spite of Covid-19.
The move has been supported by the mayors of London, Greater Manchester, Sheffield City Region, Liverpool City Region and the West Midlands.
Mr Jenrick said: “I have been deeply concerned that vital building safety work has significantly slowed down as a result of the pandemic. I have been clear that work must resume to ensure the safety of residents living in buildings with unsafe cladding or with insufficient fire safety measures, and it is entirely possible for this work to be done safely within health guidelines.”
The full press release is here:
Housing Secretary, Mayors and local leaders pledge to ensure vital building safety improvements continue during pandemic This will ensure the safety of those living in high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding or insufficient fire safety measures is prioritised Construction industry guidance published to reduce risk of spread of Covid-19 on site Essential safety work to replace unsafe cladding on high-rise buildings will continue during the Covid-19 emergency, following a commitment from local leaders to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP.
The ministry of housing has appointed a firm of construction consultants, Faithful & Gould, to advise those planning and doing ACM (Grenfell) cladding remediation work.
The announcement was dressed up as a “Pledge” by all parties to re-start work, which caused derision on social media: the last “Pledge” concerning leasehold issues was an undertaking to act fairly signed by freehold owners of ground rent speculations. This was in response to the doubling ground rent mis-selling and was a bit of lobbying that got lucky with departmental endorsement.
There has also been criticism that the work has been delayed for far too long, involving huge bills to leaseholders in waking watch and other costs.
But public funding of the initial £200 million was only announced in May 2019 by former Communities Secretary James Brokenshire – and against the advice of his permanent secretary, who pointed out that this was a subsidy to existing home owners.
There was also growing awareness that other forms of cladding were deemed equally combustible. Further funding followed, with a billion pledged in the March 2020 Budget to remediate non-ACM cladding as well.
It is clear that failings in fire safety regulation are going to cost taxpayers, including those who cannot afford to own property, a considerable sum.
There was criticism of the delays in starting remediation of private blocks on social media, which has added to the costs for services such as waking watch, for which the government is not paying.
On the other hand, had the government pushed ahead with insisting on the immediate removal of this cladding, now deemed lethal, the bill for remediation would have fallen on the leaseholders themselves (as five or so court cases ruled).
In short, government dithering did at least result in public subsidy for cladding remediation, which took two years after Grenfell to achieve.
The self-managed site Islington Gates, in Birmingham, where remediation and related works are following a schedule imposed by the buildings insurers, required leaseholders to come up with £10,000 each on April 1, the same in June and again next year. All at a point when many are facing uncertain employment owing to the pandemic.
The site may well have to be evacuated if uninsured. A slower pace, and government intervention, would be welcomed by the leaseholders at Islington Gates.
The government has announced today (2 April 2020) a series of measures to improve building safety for new and existing buildings. These announcements build on the measures previously announced by this government in ensuring that residents are safe in their homes.