A report from the Public Accounts Committee says it is “imperative” that the new deadline, for work to replace unsafe cladding on the remaining high-rise blocks should be completed by the end of 2021, be met. The committee said 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.
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.
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 £1 billion 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.
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.”