“Put a stop to arguing over who is responsible and put this right.” Public Accounts Committee (PAC) condemns “badly missed” target to make thousands of Grenfell-style cladding homes safe.
Three years after the Grenfell Tower disaster in which 72 people lost their lives, only a third (155 out of 455) of high-rise buildings with Grenfell-style flammable cladding due to be fixed by now have had their cladding replaced with a safe alternative.
In a report published today, the Public Accounts Committee says 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. The Government has no convincing plan for how it will meet that new deadline though, and even if it does there are a host of other serious shortcomings exposed by the Grenfell disaster that also need to be addressed.
The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government accepts that the British system of building safety regulation has been ‘not fit for purpose’ for many years — and these failings have left a legacy of problems for the Department to address which extend far beyond the immediate need to remove dangerous cladding.
A lack of skills, capacity, and access to insurance is hampering efforts to improve or simply assure the structural safety of apartment blocks. This knocks on to any ability to restore the confidence of buyers and mortgage lenders in sales of flats across the country. Leaseholders are in limbo and facing huge bills because of a system-wide failure.
In March 2020 the Department announced that a further £1bn would be made available to fund the replacement of other forms of dangerous cladding on high-rise buildings — but even by its own estimates, this will meet only around a third of the total costs.
Otherwise, 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.
Although the Department also recognises that care homes would be at additional risk due to the difficulties in evacuating residents in the event of a fire, it 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.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “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. 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.”
The Department should, within six months:
- a) Working with the new Building Safety Regulator, begin vigorous enforcement action against any building owners whose remediation projects are not on track to complete by the end of 2021; and
- b) Begin publishing monthly updates of projected completion dates for all remaining high-rise buildings with ACM cladding, to increase transparency of progress without identifying individual buildings.
The Department should, within three months:
- a) Publish its impact assessment of the safety risks and financial impacts on private leaseholders and social landlords (including knock-on impacts on house building and maintenance of existing stock) arising from only funding a fraction of the estimated costs of replacing non-ACM cladding from high-rise blocks; and
- b) Write to us, outlining its assessment of the risks to public money of committing all £1bn of the Building Safety Fund by the end of March 2021, and how it will monitor and mitigate these risks.
- The Department, working with the Care Quality Commission and local authorities, should make it a priority for its forthcoming data collection exercise to identify any care homes below 18 metres, which have dangerous cladding. The Department should write to us by the end of 2020 setting out progress on this and on its wider data collection.
- The Department should write to us within three months, setting out what specific steps it will take to provide greater transparency for residents throughout the application and remediation process, and how it will ensure that building owners meet a standard of service in communication with residents.
- The Department should ensure that cross-sector work to resolve issues with the External Wall Fire Review process progress at pace. As part of this cross-sector work, the Department must ensure that professionals can acquire indemnity insurance, and leaseholders are not facing escalating insurance premiums. The Department should write to us within three months setting out its assurance that these processes are operating effectively.
- The Department should, within the next three months, assess the capacity of specialist fire safety skills within the sector and set out what the impact is on delivery of its timetables for the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding. It should include in this assessment options to tackle the skills shortage so that this does not become a barrier to remediation work continuing at pace.
LGA on PAC report on cladding progress
Responding to the report by the Public Accounts Committee on progress to remove and replace cladding from unsafe buildings, Lord Porter, Building Safety Spokesperson at the Local Government Association, said: “The Committee is right to say that the failure to remediate all ACM cladding three years after the Grenfell Tower disaster is unacceptable. Social landlords have been quick to address the issue, but progress in the private sector continues to be unacceptably slow.
“We urge the Government to act on all the Committee’s recommendations without delay. Issues raised in the report around insurance, mortgages and the skills shortage rightly highlight the serious challenges that need to be overcome if all buildings are to be made safe.
“Leaseholders and residents have suffered enough. The Government has accepted that the building safety system has failed for decades and it must now deal with the consequences, which includes funding remediation in full and pursuing those responsible through the courts.
“The LGA would like to see the establishment of a fund to cover remediation costs and recommends that stakeholders examine how the industry might contribute to such a fund. This should allow building owners to spend the money in the most cost-effective way to ensure residents safety, for example, by installing sprinklers.”
Full details of the inquiry, including evidence received, available here.
Header image ©Eakrin/AdobeStock.