Action on cladding - if not now, when?
At yesterday’s IRPM’s online seminar, Ritu Saha from the UK Cladding Action Group called on Boris Johnson to be “the people’s Prime Minister” and step in with more money to help beleaguered leaseholders trapped in dangerous flats and facing huge remediation bills. The Government was also under fire from a number of senior industry figures for its apparent inability to grasp the extent, the seriousness and the complexity of the building safety issues facing those living in and managing residential blocks.
On Monday, housing association Notting Hill Genesis announced that it is evacuating more than 1000 flats on its Paragon Estate in Hounslow due to serious fire safety issues. Just let that figure sink in for a moment. All the tenants on the development are living in homes in which their continued safety cannot be guaranteed. This is a situation with which Ritu Saha is all too familiar.
The problems at NHG's housing have come to light as a result of intrusive testing of the kind that is underway in at-risk buildings across the country. Luckily these issues have been discovered before a major incident occurred. Also, they have been exposed by a social landlord with a declared mission to provide tenants with “safe and affordable housing” and with the finances and the ability to rehouse them.
But what if this situation had occurred on a privately owned development? Who would be responsible for taking such a major decision and how could it be paid for? It is likely that the leaseholders would simply have to live with the defects until such time that they could be remedied, either with help from the Government’s cladding fund – which is widely accepted to be inadequate - or without it. In the meantime, as we blogged on Monday, leaseholders are left with huge bills for a waking watch or alarm installation and are living with the overwhelming stress of knowing that, not only is their home not fit for purpose, but it may be a death trap.
The government acted swiftly post-Grenfell to review building safety. But the wheels of change grind exceedingly slow in the world of regulation and legislation. Here’s a timeline:
- June 2017 – Grenfell Tower fire kills 72 people
- June 2017 - independent expert advisory panel set up to advise Government on building safety measures.
- July – August 2017 – Large-scale testing of cladding systems is undertaken
- May 2018 – Hackitt review of building safety is published
- December 2018 - Building Regulations are amended
- 2018/19 – Advice notes 1-22 are published
- May 2019 – ACM fund is announced to help remediate high-risk buildings
- December 2019 – EWS1 form is introduced
- December 2019 – Draft Building Safety Bill is announced
- March 2020 - Fire Safety Bill is published
- January 2020 - Consolidated Advice Note is published
- March 2020 - Government announces £1bn non-ACM remediation fund
- July 2020 – Draft Building Safety Bill is published
Despite all this activity, three and a half years on from Grenfell leaseholders are still living with the spectre of badly constructed, unsafe buildings, with no end in sight. Only 65 buildings out of 2784 applications to the Government's cladding fund are currently approved for funding and going through the remediation process to date. Industry commentators don’t expect the government’s proposed new building safety regime to take effect until 2023, with the impact of the changes taking up to a decade to be felt.
So wouldn’t it be good to look back on the Paragon story in a few months’ time and be able to say “that was the turning point when the Government finally took steps to effectively deal with a situation that has now clearly become untenable”. The time to act is now - and if not now, when?
Author : Maryanne Bowring
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