Among the many questions left unanswered by Michael Gove’s commitment to make developers pay for resolving the cladding crisis on Britain’s block of flats, perhaps the most important one is how all of the other necessary safety works are to be funded.
Phase One of the Grenfell inquiry exposed a whole host of problems with the safety of residential blocks of flats and these affect not just the high rise tower blocks over 18 metres high. These are just a few of the issues:
- Inefficient and flammable insulation
- Flawed compartmentation
- Inappropriate, absent or incorrectly applied fire breaks
- Defective fire doors
- Sprinkler systems
- Fire alarms
- Flammable balconies
Going forward these problems can be relatively easily fixed in new buildings, but retrofitting the solutions to our existing stock will be costly, disruptive and time consuming. Work has already started on dealing with some of the above, but so far this only affects a relatively small percentage of the many thousands of flatted blocks when remedial action is required.
When the timetable of works to remove cladding is looked at in terms of what has been completed to date, it is clear that the current rate of progress is wholly inadequate.
The new building safety regulator should ensure that a greater focus is applied. But the resources required for these works (labour, materials and money) will often be competing with decarbonisation retrofitting work which is necessary to meet the Government’s carbon reduction targets.
The Grenfell inquiry heard repeatedly that the landlord and its many contractors had ignored questions and safety warnings from the tenants who lived in the block before, during and after the refurbishment. If we are not to repeat the mistakes of Grenfell, then ways need to be found to ensure tenants’ views and opinions are sought, considered and where possible, acted upon.
But alongside the question ‘How do we achieve truly safe residential buildings?’ we also need to ensure that the building of new homes to rent, both for social and private renting continues at a pace in order to tackle the current homelessness problem. Michael Gove appears to have made a decent start on tackling the cladding problem, but his in-tray of other urgent housing issues to resolve at the Levelling Up department is pretty full.
By Patrick Mooney, Editor