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Removal of ACM cladding stalls as Covid-19 causes ‘severe’ disruption

cladding resi block
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Efforts to remove dangerous aluminium composite material (ACM) has stalled due to ‘severe’ disruption to remediation work caused by the coronavirus

Almost three years after combustible cladding fuelled an inferno which claimed 72 lives at Grenfell Tower, 313 buildings – 266 of which are residential – still have similar ACM cladding systems waiting to be taken off.

Although two buildings were successfully stripped and reclad in March, another two buildings were discovered to have ACM cladding, leaving the total in need of attention unchanged.

While only one building with ACM cladding was successfully remediated in February, a combined 23 properties were made safe during January, December, and November.

Now there are concerns progress could continue to falter, after construction sites around the country were shut towards the end of March, with staff unable to operate without violating social distancing measures.

On Friday (17 April) housing minister Robert Jenrick said he was ‘deeply concerned that vital building safety work has significantly slowed down as a result of the pandemic’.

Experts fear that Covid-19 could also effect the production of materials used to replace the ACM cladding and prevent the investigation of some properties suspected of having ACM cladding because surveyors cannot access internal areas.

The national lockdown also raises the threat to life from dangerous cladding, as residents of towers are advised to go out only for exercise or essential travel.

Last week Jenrick said work should continue on removal of ACM cladding 

Last week Jenrick said work should continue on removal of ACM cladding and that contractors should implement initiatives such as decontamination areas to enable to workers to hose down overalls.

‘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,’ he said.

In a letter sent to MPs earlier this month, Jenrick also revealed he had appointed consultants Faithful + Gould and construction expert David Hancock to lead on the remediation of cladding in face of ‘severe’ challenges caused by the virus.

‘New, enhanced project management support to this programme will allow us to identify and seek solutions to Covid-19 impacts, including on labour and supply, through engagement with individual remediation projects,’ Jenrick wrote.

A parliamentary select committee is currently investigating the progress of removal of dangerous cladding from high-rise buildings, after convening last month.

Removal of cladding on private buildings appears to be far short of what is necessary to address the real scale of the issue

Clive Betts, chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, said the government’s financial support to enable the removal of ACM cladding on private buildings ‘appears to be far short of what is necessary to address the real scale of the issue’.

Earlier this month the AJ’s sister title, Construction News, reported that Galliard Homes had paused ACM recladding works at its New Capital Quay development in London due to the coronavirus crisis.

Capital quay development construction news

Capital quay development construction news

The housebuilder said remedial work to remove and replace the combustible casing was not expected to resume until Public Health England guidance on social distancing changed.

The company had been recladding the 11-storey residential building in Greenwich since the National Housebuilding Council (NHBC) agreed to pay for remedial works, expected to cost between £25 million and £40 million.

Expert view – Andrew Mellor, PRP

Some sites are open or opening but with reduced workers due to the ongoing pandemic and this therefore has an impact on the length of work programmes. I think there’s probably going to be four to six weeks without work on site, then we can expect two to three months of reduced work.

There are a number of reasons why covid-19 is slowing the remediation of cladding. These include:

  • A shortage of façade subcontractors and scaffolders, as many have been furloughed
  • Material shortages as manufacturing factories have been hit
  • Residents at home don’t like noise and understandably fear that the virus could be passed onto them
  • A risk that residents could film the work and post on social media which is not good for contractor or landlord reputation
  • The need for PPE, which is in short supply
  • Reduced car parking on site due to residents being at home combined with more workers in single cars due to reduced public transport services
  • Distancing rules and 15 minute close working periods increase the time it takes to do jobs
  • Extra costs of cleaners and bins for PPE disposal

Andrew Mellor is a partner at PRP and an expert in fire safety 

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