New powers for councils to step in and remove dangerous cladding from privately-owned towers have been criticised for being “largely useless”, leaving tens of thousands of leaseholders feeling unsafe and facing huge bills.
Last November, Housing Secretary James Brokenshire announced that councils had Government support to take control of ACM-clad buildings and carry out works, where developers and freeholders were dragging their feet or refusing to act. He said this included financial support if necessary and that “Everyone has a right to feel safe in their homes.” But council officials believe that as little as ten per cent of the affected private tower blocks can actually be tackled by councils and as yet, no councils have used the powers, which only apply to buildings that meet very strict criteria. Instead Gary Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association, is asking ministers to fund the works directly.
Ministers made £400m available to fix social housing blocks which has proved successful, with remediation works started or completed in over 80 per cent of blocks owned by councils and HAs. By contrast only a fraction of the private blocks identified as using the now banned aluminium composite material cladding panels have been fixed (10 out of 173). The Prime Minister and Chancellor have joined Brokenshire in demanding action from private block freeholders but 22 months on, works have yet to start on most private residential blocks. The Government has revealed there are as many as 16,600 flats in private tower blocks that have still not had their dangerous flammable cladding panels removed. Opposition MPs are demanding that Ministers set up a loan fund to be used for removal work, with a date set for all works to be completed and the affected buildings made safe.
Suzanne Richards, Manchester City Council’s executive member for housing and regeneration, said: “The current powers government has given councils only apply to limited cases, perhaps only 10 or 20 per cent, where building owners refuse to act. What we now really need to see is for government to step in to offer leaseholders a genuine lifeline, by creating a fund that will pay for cladding works directly.” The crisis is affecting tens of thousands of households across the country. Councils have to demonstrate problems with insulation, cladding and firebreaks as well as the presence of an acute fire trigger such as gas supply, and that the building has no waking watch in place for a building to be classed as a category one risk, according to Manchester city council. If developers or freeholders have shown they are willing to take action, those buildings will not qualify for council intervention, even if that involves passing costs onto leaseholders.
The Housing Ministry confirmed that the powers are only available “under certain circumstances”. It said: “We have been abundantly clear that unsafe cladding systems which do not comply with building regulations must be replaced and leaseholders must be protected from costs. We will also support councils who use the full range of enforcement powers at their disposal to ensure that action is taken by building owners to remove unsafe cladding.” In a more positive development, Housing Minister Kit Malthouse told MPs that the company providing building warranties for most of the country’s housing has agreed to contribute to cladding removal costs from some schemes. “The government is aware that the NHBC has currently accepted seven warranty claims for buildings with unsafe ACM cladding in England and Wales. A number of these claims include multiple buildings. Further claims are still being considered.”
By Patrick Mooney, Editor