Little Progress on Tower Block Cladding

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New statistics reveal that just one percent of residential buildings identified to have dangerous cladding in investigations undertaken post-Grenfell have had the hazardous materials removed and replaced in the seven months since the tragedy.

According to figures published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, 312 residential buildings have so far been tested in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire and 299 of these were found to fail safety assessments. 160 of this number were social housing blocks. However, to date only 26 of these residential blocks have had their cladding removed, and just three council buildings have had their cladding fully removed and replaced.

Cladding has been removed from 17 social housing tower blocks – just 10% of the total figure – while the replacement process has begun on 9 such blocks.

Shadow housing secretary John Healey criticised the government’s inaction, saying: “It's simply not good enough.”

The secretary for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid emphasised that residents’ safety was a “number one priority” for the government and that new measures, including all-hour fire wardens, were being taken to ensure that “everyone and anyone living in any tower that might have similar cladding feels completely safe.”

However, for proper testing to be carried out and full replacements to be made in all affected social housing buildings would simply “take time,” he said.

Meanwhile, disputes continue to loom over who should foot the bill for the ongoing fire safety improvements to tower blocks.

Whilst the government has promised to cover any costs associated with essential work, it has rejected multiple requests for funding from local councils, maintaining that this work is either not essential or not the duty of central government.

Private renters will pay £2m replacement bill

In the private sector, residents of a privately-owned high-rise block in Croydon fitted with the same cladding that was used on Grenfell Tower may be forced to pay the £2m bill for replacement panels to be installed.

The news comes despite comments from MPs on the “clear moral case” for landlords rather than tenants taking responsibility for cladding replacement bills in private residential blocks.

After an initial estimate that changes to the Cityscape residential building would cost approximately £500,000, new figures indicate the total to be between £1.8m and £2m.

With 95 flats involved, each household could be faced with contributing between £13,300 and £31,300 for the work.

The building's property manager, First Port Property Services, explained in letters to residents that the cost were expected to be covered through service charges.

Legality of cheap cladding is questioned

Possible charges range from manslaughter and corporate manslaughter to misconduct in public office and breaches of fire safety legislation.

In the wake of the Grenfell fire, which started with a window-adjacent fridge-freezer in a fourth-floor flat and spread quickly up the building’s exterior via the cladding, there has been controversy as to whether the flammable cladding used on the tower block violated UK building regulations.

Aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding with a polyethylene core is the lowest performing of three grades of the ACM material in fire safety tests.

However, UK building regulations require only insulation and filler materials to be of reasonably limited combustibility, which creates a loophole for the ACM cladding that is technically not purposed for insulation.

Elsewhere, approved regulatory documents require more broadly that “materials are of a suitable nature and quality in relation to the purposes and conditions of their use,” but nonetheless, while concerns have been raised Europe-wide about the safety of such cladding, it is not explicitly prohibited by any legislation.

Masi Farjadmand, a property and construction lecturer at the University of Westminster, surmises that the cheap and highly combustible aluminium composite material cladding “is not illegal to the letter of the law, but it may not comply to the spirit of either the law or the regulations.”

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