Post-Grenfell cladding work could take until 2029 at current rate, says Labour | Society

Grenfell-style combustible cladding is being replaced so slowly that it could take until 2029 before all buildings are fixed, Labour has said.

According to government figures, 249 high-rise apartment blocks are yet to be made completely safe, and the majority of them are still wrapped in dangerous aluminium composite (ACM) panels.

Over the last six months privately owned towers have been fixed at a rate of 1.2 per month, and 88 blocks have still not started remediation works, official figures show. Social housing blocks are being fixed at the rate of just over two per month, and there are nine where nothing has happened yet.

The Grenfell public inquiry found that ACM panels were the main cause of the fire in 2017 in which 72 people died.

The shadow housing minister, Thangam Debbonaire, said the rate of progress meant the government was on course to miss its original targets for fixing the cladding crisis by almost a decade.

The government said last month it expected all building owners to have works on site for the removal of unsafe ACM cladding by the end of this year, with completion of remedial works by the end of 2021.

It has made £600m available for the removal of ACM panels, and a further £1bn to tackle other fire safety problems in high-rise blocks discovered since Grenfell.

In total, the government estimates that more than 2,000 high-rise buildings need to be fixed because of various types of dangerous cladding – which also includes high-pressure laminate panels – plus the discovery of previously hidden problems that could allow fire to spread.

“The government’s lack of action over the last three years to tackle the building safety crisis has left thousands trapped unsafe homes,” Debbonaire told the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, in a letter.

“The only thing that will fix the issue is a long-term solution to the remediation of buildings. It is increasingly clear that the size and scope of the building safety fund is nowhere near sufficient to ensure that all tall buildings are made safe. The government must urgently bring forward a long-term solution for external wall remediation which protects leaseholders.”

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has been contacted for comment.

In July 2019 the then housing secretary, James Brokenshire, told parliament: “My expectation is that, other than in exceptional circumstances, building owners should complete remediation within six months of agreeing a plan – by June 2020.”

The public accounts committee has suggested the repair fund needs to be much larger, with up to £3.5bn likely to be needed. Meanwhile, leaseholders have been trapped in stalemates with developers and building owners over who should pay, despite ministers’ insistence that owners should take responsibility.

Leaseholders have been left unable to sell their properties because mortgage companies are requiring checks on external wall systems – known as EWS1 checks – before they lend, and there is a shortage of surveyors.

Such is the anxiety about fire risks that some qualified assessors have been unable to obtain professional indemnity insurance to undertake the job, and many surveys are finding faults that require remedial work.

“The EWS1 process is not working and millions of families across the country are in limbo as a result,” said Debbonaire, calling for a faster and fairer process that prioritises the buildings most at risk.

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