Two thirds of buildings with Grenfell-style cladding 'have not had it replaced'

16 September 2020, 06:38 | Updated: 9 October 2020, 15:22

Only around a third of high rise buildings with Grenfell-style flammable cladding, have had it replaced to date
Only around a third of high rise buildings with Grenfell-style flammable cladding, have had it replaced to date. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

Two thirds of high rise buildings with Grenfell-style flammable cladding still have not had it replaced, a report has found.

A committee of MPs says thousands of people have been "condemned to lives of stress and fear", after the Government's failure to meet its target.

After the 2017 Grenfell Tower tragedy, in which 72 people lost their lives, the Government pledged safe alternatives to dangerous cladding would be provided on all high rise buildings by June 2020.

Read more: Labour demands action over ‘shameful’ lack of fire safety reform

But the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said just over a third - 155 out of 455 - of high rise buildings with similar flammable cladding to Grenfell have had it replaced to date.

The PAC said progress has been "unacceptably slow", a conclusion accepted by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), and that leaseholders have been the victims of a "system-wide failure".

The MHCLG has set a new target for works on the remaining high rise blocks to be completed by the end of 2021.

Multiple residents of such blocks have reported worsening mental health issues as a result of worries about their safety and facing high costs of funding interim measures such as "waking watches" - constant patrols to monitor buildings for signs of fire - as they wait for cladding to be replaced.

Many said they are now "trapped" in the situation, unable to sell flats that have depreciated massively in value.

Meg Hillier MP, chairwoman of the PAC, said: "The (MHCLG) 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."

She added: "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 MHCLG made £600 million available to fund the replacement of aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding on buildings above 18 metres but by April this year it had only paid out £134 million.

In March, it announced a further £1 billion would be made available to fund the replacement of other forms of dangerous cladding on high rise buildings but estimates suggest this would meet only around a third of the total costs.

The PAC said the MHCLG has no plans to support residents or social landlords to meet the costs of replacing dangerous cladding in buildings below 18 metres.

The committee said the ministry also has no plans to cover the costs of waking watches or other serious defects and shortcomings uncovered by post-Grenfell inspections.

A spokesperson for the PAC said: "While the (MHCLG) is clear that building owners are responsible for the safety of their buildings, it is the (MHCLG) which is responsible for the building regulation system, which it accepts has been not fit for purpose for many years.

"These failings have left a legacy of problems for the (MHCLG) to address which extend 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, and thereby 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 to protect purchasers."

A spokeswoman for the MHCLG said it was providing £1.6bn to "speed up the removal of unsafe cladding", adding: "We are seeing significant progress - over 70% of buildings with ACM cladding have completed or are in the process of remediation.

"We're introducing the biggest improvements to building regulations in almost 40 years and a new regulator will ensure that people who design, build and manage high rise buildings are held responsible for building safety.

"Building owners have a legal responsibility to ensure their buildings are safe and must ensure that any remaining buildings have started remediation works before the end of this year - if we do not see progress we will not hesitate to take further action."