Ministers have announced a £200 million fund to remove combustible cladding from the UK’s private tower blocks and criticised ‘reckless building owners’ for refusing to foot the bill
In a statement, housing secretary James Brokenshire criticised the ‘delaying tactics’ of developers and landlords who have not paid for the removal of unsafe cladding nearly two years after 72 people died in the Grenfell Tower fire.
The fund will go towards removing the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding from 170 privately owned high-rise buildings where the owners have failed to do so.
Latest figures show that 166 private buildings are yet to start works on removing and replacing ACM cladding, compared to 23 in the social sector.
Prime minister Theresa May said too many owners were ‘continuing to pass on the costs of removal and replacement to leaseholders’.
She added: ‘It is of paramount importance that everybody is able to feel and be safe in their homes. That’s why we asked building owners in the private sector to take action and make sure appropriate safety measures were in place.’
The move follows a huge campaigning effort by The UK Cladding Action Group (UKCAG), a coalition of private leaseholders which has fought to persuade developers to fund the cost of cladding removal.
The group said while the fund would be a ‘relief’ for thousands trapped in buildings covered with ACM, it also introduced a ‘cladding lottery’ as the funding would not pay for the removal of other types of panels.
‘Fire does not distinguish between the different types of failed cladding,’ the group said. ‘This inadequate response will be looked back on in in shame when the next Grenfell tragedy occurs.’
Grenfell United, a group of survivors and the bereaved, said it offered hope to people feeling at risk at home. ‘This result is a testament to residents themselves, in social and private blocks, who refused to be ignored,’ the group said. ‘The truth is we should never have had to fight for it.’
The government said that building owners would have three months to access the new fund, and it would consider further action against those who fail to remediate.
Labour shadow housing secretary John Healey welcomed the decision but said it was ‘astonishing’ that it had taken ministers almost two years to act.
He added: ‘The government must now back the further steps Labour has been calling for: toughen the sanctions to get this work done and set a deadline to make all blocks safe.’
Echoing Healey, former RIBA president Jane Duncan, who chairs the institute’s fire safety group, said action had been ‘extremely slow’ and that many people had faced real stress and financial hardship because of a ‘past failure in regulation’.
She added: ‘We are yet to see regulatory change on other issues that might help prevent fire tragedies in the future. We want to see the government introduce improved regulation on the provision of sprinklers and alternative means of escape in residential buildings. We must ensure that the public is protected.’
Yesterday the Evening Standard reported how London’s fire chief had called on the government to introduce tougher building regulations ‘without further delay’.
London Fire Brigade commissioner Dany Cotton said advice about sprinklers had been ignored and developers must now be required to include them in designs.
‘For too long our fire-safety advice on sprinklers has been ignored,’ she said, adding: ‘Developers must be required to include sprinklers in building design and especially in purpose-built residential blocks and homes where vulnerable people live.’