We must keep pushing for action on the country’s cladding scandal

Cllr Keith Aspden, Leader of City of York Council, and the Liberal Democrat Deputy Chair of the LGA Fire Services Management Committee

Cllr Keith Aspden Deputy Chair of the LGA Fire Services Management Committee

Since the Grenfell Tower disaster in June 2017, Lib Dems across the country have been campaigning for greater protections for leaseholders and tenants who are currently living in blocks with Grenfell style cladding or blocks that were previously certified as compliant and safe but which now fail new standards after Grenfell. Our councillors, Lords, MPs and community campaigners have been leading calls to End Our Cladding Scandal. As one of our lead members at the Local Government Association, I have ensured that the LGA continues to represent the real extent of this crisis.

The current phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry is exploring and revealing the shortcomings of the regulatory system, confusion within the industry, and the deliberate acts to exploit that confusion that may have contributed to the current crisis. Throughout this, it has been made clear that the current system in place to identify and remediate cladding and fire safety issues, including dangerous cladding, is perilously slow, presenting significant safety risks and leaving thousands of leaseholders facing financial ruin.

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, stated in July 2020 that “the Government are clear that it is unacceptable for leaseholders to have to worry about the cost of fixing historic fire safety defects in their buildings that they did not cause”. However, during pre-legislative scrutiny of the forthcoming Building Safety Bill, the Government’s commitment shifted to protecting leaseholders from ‘unaffordable’ costs only.

Following a significant amount of public pressure, including lobbying from the LGA, the Government has made a total of £1.6 billion available towards the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding on high-rise residential buildings. This included the announcement of a £1 billion fund, to support the remediation of unsafe non-ACM cladding in buildings over 18 meters, in the March 2020 budget.

However, the £1 billion Building Safety Fund is nowhere near adequate to address the current issues. The Government itself estimates that the total costs of cladding remediation in 1700 affected buildings will be between £3 billion and £3.5 billion. This funding will be distributed on a first-come-first-served basis, rather than based on risk. There are concerns that this cut-off will see challenges by leaseholders, either through judicial review or legal challenge against landlords who did not apply quickly enough.

There are also concerns around exclusions from the fund: funding is limited to buildings above 18 metres, covers work started after March 2020 only and excludes council landlords unless ‘remediation costs threaten the financial viability of the provider of the Housing Revenue Account’. In addition, the fund will cover the costs of cladding remediation only, excluding any additional fire safety issues uncovered in the process of remediation. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee have estimated that all fire safety defects in buildings over 18 metres would cost up to £15 billion to remediate. This estimate does not include the 77,500 buildings between 11 and 18 metres.

Whilst Baroness Kath Pinnock is leading the House of Lords’ charge to ensure that no leaseholder or tenant has to cover the costs associated with living in a home deemed unsafe due to its cladding, the LGA has been calling for a new approach to the cladding crisis. In the House of Lords Baroness Pinnock’s amendment was passed to the Fire Safety Bill, supported by Liberal Democrat, Labour, Cross Bench and Green peers, none of the remediation costs should be met, leaseholders and tenants. This success by our Lib Dem peers now means that the Government must respond by turning down the amendment or finding a compromise.

The building industry and the Government must take responsibility for their role in the long-term systemic failure that caused it. The first step towards this must be establishing a task force to take forward legal action against those responsible for the cladding crisis and commitment to a levy on the relevant parts of the building industry in the next budget. Attempts to make leaseholders carry the costs of repairing the thousands of affected buildings over 11m are not only unfair, but risk collapsing the housing market, hampering any post-covid economic recovery and will leave a widespread sense of injustice and significant mental health consequences for years to come. We must continue to highlight Government failure to tackle this crisis and push our communities to be protected and make sure they don’t have to pick up the bill for Government inaction.

As local campaigners and councillors, we can do our bit, from engaging with residents’ associations, submitting council motions to continuing to pressure the Government though the cross-party End our Cladding Scandal and UK Cladding Action Group campaigns. The LGA is always a good first stop for resources, briefings and campaign and local engagement suggestions.

* Keith Aspden has been the Councillor for Fulford Ward in York since 2003 and for Fulford and Heslington Ward since 2015. Since 2019 he is the Leader of City of York Council, and the Liberal Democrat Deputy Chair of the LGA Fire Services Management Committee.

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  • John Marriott 3rd Feb '21 - 5:30pm

    I find it incomprehensible that the firms and organisations that used the inadequate cladding should not be picking up part, if not all of the bill for its replacement. I would go as far as saying that the individuals, who signed off the materials as being safe, should be indicted in a criminal prosecution.

  • Absolutely right, this government seems unwilling to stand up to property developers whether on cladding or unfair treatment of leaseholders with prohibitive ground rents.

    There is an opportunity for the Lib Dem’s to become the party of home ownership and I hope they take it.

  • I’m in no doubt that had such cladding been found at Westminster, Downing St. or Buck. House the course of action and who pays would not still be unresolved after almost 4 years

  • Helen Dudden 3rd Feb '21 - 6:39pm

    I find the situation shocking, that there are resident’s living in properties that are a fire hazard and are likely to lose large sums to pay for the remedial works. I also understand, that some are paying for a personal check every day for possible fire.

  • Steve Trevethan 3rd Feb '21 - 7:14pm

    Might the current action, and particularly avoidance of action, be the result of governments protecting “big money” organisations and groups?
    Might this be done by getting those with “small money” to pay in order to protect and/or advance those with “big” money?
    Might some of the causes of the fitting of cladding, which its associated paperwork indicated that it was a fire hazard and the avoidance of post Grenfell follow up, lie in the systems of donations to political parties?
    Big donations come from those with “big money”. Parties who displease “big” donors are likely to face a serious drop in come. They are unlikely to this

  • John Marriott 3rd Feb ’21 – 5:30pm:
    I find it incomprehensible that the firms and organisations that used the inadequate cladding should not be picking up part, if not all of the bill for its replacement.

    It’s the standards which were inadequate. I suggest sending the bill to the EU…

    The Grenfell Tower fire would not have happened without the EU and global warming’:

    By 2002, however, the EU had adopted its inadequate test, incorporating it in a European standard using EN 13501. Under EU law, this became mandatory, leaving the UK’s BS 8414 as only a voluntary option.

    The EU had also become obsessed with the need for better insulation of buildings to combat global warming, which became its only priority. All that mattered was the “thermal efficiency” of materials used for insulation, for which none was to prove better than the polyisocyanurate used in Celotex, the plastic chosen in 2014 for Grenfell.

    Fire experts across Europe have pointed out that the lack of a proper whole system test was ignoring the risk of insulation fires, not least in Germany, where there have been more than 100.

  • ‘Brexit: Grenfell Tower – blood on their hands’:

    …we can take it as a given that the main (and very powerful) driver behind the Grenfell Tower refurbishment – focused almost entirely as it was on energy efficiency – was the European Union energy policy and its commitment to an energy efficiency target of 20 percent by 2020, based on 1990 levels.

    Why this so firmly puts the ball in the EU’s court is that the EU itself has created a situation where combustible material was going to be used – as a matter of necessity – to satisfy its energy efficiency demands. This is in the context where, as the Croatian team points out – there was an indissoluble link between energy performance and fire performance of buildings, when it was already known that the EU-mandated test standard was wholly inadequate.

    Putting this together, had the EU made the use of enhanced insulation in buildings conditional on the application of tougher fire tests – which was within its power to do – instead of blocking national attempts to make such testing mandatory, then one can state, without equivocation, that the Grenfell Tower fire would not have occurred. The evidence is there for those that wish to see it.

  • “Jeff 3rd Feb ’21 – 8:16pm”

    Here we go, another Brexit troll who wants to blame the EU for everything.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, UK governments under Thatcher, Blair and the coalition reduced or “simplified” fire safety standards without any requirement from the EU to do so.

  • John Marriott 4th Feb '21 - 12:48pm

    Blame the EU if you like. What about those individuals, who signed dodgy documents and got away with it?

    As far as Grenfell is concerned, I seem to remember reading somewhere that the impetus for refurbishing and, in doing so, beautifying the tower came from the affluent residents, whose valuable private properties were situated nearby, complaining to the council that they were fed up with staring at such an ugly edifice, that was likely to have an adverse effect on the value of their properties.

  • Helen Dudden 6th Feb '21 - 9:40am

    Not in my area thoughts. Sad to think that the lesson has not been learnt.
    Sorry, is an easy word to use.

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