The National Audit Office (NAO) has found that work to remove flammable cladding identified in the wake of the Grenfell Tower Fire, hasn’t even begun on over half of the buildings identified by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG). Furthermore, the government spending watchdog also found that private landlords are lagging behind in remedial works, in comparison the their public sector counterparts. With the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Fire having just passed, this will be seen by a failure by the government to act quickly enough to ensure high rise residents safety.
Two thirds, (307), of the 456 buildings identified by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) as having dangerous materials, have not yet finished work to replace the cladding, with over half of that figure not even having started work (167). These are the headline figures in the latest report by the Government Spending Watchdog; The National Audit Office (NAO).
The reported titled; “Investigation into remediating dangerous cladding on high-rise buildings” examines how the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG)
- Is assuring itself that it has correctly identified all the buildings which fall within scope of the Programme, and that they are being fully remediated;
- Is managing the pace of progress of remediation; and
- Has decided which buildings qualify for remediation funding, and how it has assessed risks outside the scope.
In the wake of the Grenfell Tower Fire, the government introduced a £200m cladding remediation fund for the private sector highrise owners, and a £400m social sector fund. The NAO report reveals that just £1.42m (0.7%) of available funds has been claimed private building owners. The reason for the low uptake is attributed to the conditions private sector owners must meet prior to claiming from the government. Building owners must demonstrate they have made a reasonable attempt to meet or recover costs, without having to charge leaseholders, by covering costs from their own resources, insurance, warranty claims or legal proceedings. The MHCLG admit that it could take years for building owners to recoup costs through the courts.
The NAO also suggest the lagging behind in the private sector could be as those legally responsible for private buildings, have been difficult to identify and needed more support.
Social housing and student accommodation sectors have fared much better. By April 2020, two thirds of student accommodation blocks (66.7%) and just under half (46.8%) of social housing buildings, had been fully remediated. This was in stark contrast to private sector residential buildings where only 13.5% were completed. Overall, these figures are a failure for the government as they had set a deadline for all works to be completed by June 2020. Even with the COVID-19 Pandemic slowing works, they still wouldn’t have been complete by now.
During the NAO’s investigation, they found that the government had changed it’s deadline to 95% of works being completed by the end of 2021. This is likely to be pushed back further as, this 2021 target was set before the pandemic paused 60% of works underway. Therefore,it is likely that it will take nearly five years from the Grenfell Tower Fire, for buildings over 18 metres to be made safe. Until then, resident’s will live be forced to live with the uncertainty.
Cladding on Care Homes – Unknown
It is very important to note that the government only fund and require remediation works to building over 18 metres. Any building below this height, even if covered in flammable cladding, is not legally bound to do anything.
However, the NAO states that the MHCLG is now carrying out a massive search of an estimated 85,000 buildings between 11 and 18 metres to find out how many have cladding systems, and what proportion might be unsafe.
This search has being undertaken as the MHCLG’s Independent Expert Advisory Panel (Expert Panel) raised concerns that buildings with elderly and vulnerable residents, are often under 18 metres but, may still have dangerous cladding systems.
National Audit Office (NAO) head Gareth Davies stated that “administrative challenges” would have to be overcome if the department was to hit its targets. In his summary Davies said;
“MHCLG has made progress in overseeing the removal of dangerous cladding from many buildings, particularly in the social housing sector. However, the pace of progress has lagged behind its own expectations, particularly in the private residential sector. It has a long way to go to make all high-rise buildings safe for residents,
“Going forward, it is important that the department successfully manages the administrative challenges of funding building owners to carry out remediation work, particularly given its intention to commit a further £1bn in full by the end of March 2021.”
Three years since the tragic, and ultimately preventable fire at Grenfell Tower, thousands of people are still living in what can only be described as a tinderbox waiting to go up.