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Cladding victims renew calls for government solution

Written by: Emma Lunn
Survivors and bereaved family members from the Grenfell Tower fire have joined forces with residents trapped in dangerous flats in a new campaign calling on the government to lead an “urgent national effort” to solve the spiralling crisis.

Six months after the government announced funds to remove dangerous cladding from tower blocks, the groups say the current effort is failing and 700,000 people are living in dangerous conditions with no end in sight.

Up to 3.6 million people could face waiting as long as a decade to sell almost any modern flat because they cannot prove their walls are safe.

End Our Cladding Scandal campaign

The relaunched End Our Cladding Scandal campaign sets out 10 steps to fix the crisis, which has left about 200,000 high-rise homes wrapped in deadly materials and up to 1.5 million modern flats of all heights unable to sell or get a new mortgage.

Around the country, about 20,000 high-rise flats still have the same cladding as on Grenfell Tower.

An estimated 186,000 flats in at least 2,957 tall developments are wrapped in other types of flammable materials, according to registrations for a £1bn government building safety fund obtained by The Sunday Times.

The figures exclude hundreds of thousands of medium-rise flats (below 18 metres) that are also thought to be affected.

National effort needed

The groups’ demands include for the government to lead an urgent national effort to remove all dangerous cladding from buildings by June 2022 and for funding to be provided upfront to all blocks, including social housing blocks.

It is an approach modelled on steps being taken in several Australian states, where the government would put up the money to fix buildings, but then take on the power to pursue those responsible through the courts and levy new development to recoup its costs.

The new demands – launched yesterday in The Sunday Times – have been developed in consultation with specialist magazine Inside Housing and several lawyers representing families at the ongoing inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire.

They are based on the recommendations of the cross-party Housing, Communities and Local Government select committee and have the backing of several large industry bodies, politicians from across the political spectrum, London mayor Sadiq Khan, and Labour shadow housing minister Andy Street. Celebrities such as TV presenter Kevin McCloud are also backing the campaign.

Grenfell United, a group of bereaved families and survivors from the fire, says: “It’s been three years since the fire that took the lives of our loved ones and neighbours. With this dangerous cladding still on buildings all it will take is a simple kitchen fire to cause another Grenfell. It could happen at any moment.  Only the government has the capacity to sort this mess out. They haven’t done enough and every month they stall they are willingly leaving thousands of people in danger. Rishi Sunak and Robert Jenrick need to step up and make this right.”

Not enough money

According to campaigners, the £1bn government fund will cover fewer than 600 of the 2,957 developments that have registered, leaving 2,375 with no recourse to remediation.

This is in addition to 291 out of a total of 458 tall buildings with the same aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding as used on Grenfell which are yet to complete remediation more than three years since the fire. Just 53 of these buildings completed remediation this year.

In the absence of government funding, costs for remediation often fall on leaseholders – with sums reaching more than £100,000 per flat in the worst cases.

Leaseholders are also often required to fund 24-hour waking watches and other interim measures, at costs of up to  £800 per month each, until their blocks are made safe.

Around the country up to 1.5 million modern flats are unsellable – even in three-storey blocks – because they cannot demonstrate the safety of their cladding, insulation, balconies and wall structure, a necessary requirement of gaining a mortgage due to government guidance.

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, says: “The Grenfell Tower fire should have been the tragic wake-up call ministers needed to improve building safety. Instead, more than three years on, thousands of Londoners continue to live in unsafe accommodation, dealing with the stress and uncertainty of building owners dragging their feet and the government failing to take responsibility.

“I welcome the work carried out by the Housing, Communities and Local Government select committee and I’m proud to back Inside Housing’s campaign to end our cladding scandal.”

Ritu Saha, a founding member of the UK Cladding Action Group, says: “Grenfell has exposed terrible failings of the building safety regulatory regime in this country.

“Thousands of buildings are now deemed unsafe, with horrific mental and financial consequences for innocent leaseholders. Any decent government must put the safety of residents first. This government must act now or be responsible for another Grenfell.”

Giles Grover and Rebecca Fairclough, spokespeople for Manchester Cladiators, says: “The government has accepted that its building regulations have been ‘not fit for purpose’ for years but has chosen to only commit a fraction of the funds required to make our homes safe. This continued flawed approach to tackling this crisis has only increased the uncertainty our residents are suffering. The government must step up and put this right now.”

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