Peter Johnson, chairman of cladding supplier Vivalda Group, thinks the government needs to grasp the nettle and fund the remediation work on all unsafe cladding on high rise buildings.
The true scale of unsafe cladding on high rise buildings in the UK has taken us all by surprise. In addition to the 300 tower blocks with ACM (aluminium composite) cladding undergoing remediation, we now know there is probably a further 11,000 buildings with other forms of combustible cladding, of which approximately 1,700 are ‘high-risk’ and likely to require urgent attention.
Having already committed £1.6bn to replace unsafe ACM cladding last year, the true scale of the problem has become clear once other types of potentially flammable materials were found to have been used on various high rise buildings such as flats, student accommodation and hotels. However significant this funding sounds, many commentators think it will only cover a proportion of the 1,700 ‘high-risk’ towers identified. Unaudited early estimates of the bids received so far for remediation work exceed £3.4bn, suggesting a substantial shortfall in available cash. By December, when the bids close, this figure is likely to be even higher. A select committee recently estimated, some would say conservatively, that it would cost £15bn to get the job done.
There are many thousands of people – most on the first rung of the housing ladder – who are living in unsafe homes that are effectively worthless thanks to the unsafe cladding that is on the outside of their homes. Landlords or developers are not willing to admit fault and the government is dragging its feet. Some householders are facing bills of £70k to replace unsafe cladding – this they cannot afford. This is in my opinion a national disgrace that cannot be allowed to drag on.
Who is to blame? Who is responsible for the safety of our housing stock? Should it be the landlords, manufacturers, contractors or safety executives involved in these projects? It’s a complex web of responsibility, but in the end, it’s at the feet of our government where the buck has to stop. Constant shrugging of shoulders and kicking the can down the road will not solve anything. We need decisive action.
Time for action
The only effective, rapid and responsible course of action is for the Government to grasp the nettle and invest the full amount needed to replace unsafe cladding on all high rise developments, whether in the public or private sector. Call it Keynesian economics, sensible investment in our housing stock, part of a post-Covid recovery plan or just ‘doing the right thing’ – we need to sort this. Once vital remedial work on high rise buildings is completed, then people can sleep safe at night, in the knowledge that they won’t be another Grenfell.
Surely in the great scheme of things – look at the sums involved in furloughing people or funding contentious infrastructure projects – the principle of keeping people safe in their own homes should come first.