Everyone welcomed the Government’s intervention to fund cladding remediation, but the scale of the problem is understated. We are dealing with a national challenge on an unprecedented and, to some extent, unknown scale, with the signs far more worrying that initially expected. Recent analysis by my organisation estimates that half a million people could be living with unsafe cladding.
Today, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee published its official response to its high-profile public inquiry into cladding remediation, having carried out a review of the progress in removing potentially dangerous cladding from high-rise and high-risk buildings, and the adequacy of funding provided by the Government.
The report outlines a series of recommendations on how to speed up this process and make it more effective.
There are a number of ways the Government can address these challenges. First and foremost, we need to develop a risk profile overview, prioritising the high-risk buildings and making available the necessary financial and physical resources to remediate them swiftly. This has been introduced by the Victorian Government in Australia, who is ranking buildings according to risk.
By creating a centralised system which ranks buildings according to their risk profile, we can work as a sector to put in place the right safety measures and carry out the necessary works to remediate affected blocks. It’s also worth pointing out that Victoria has not imposed the arbitrary height restriction of 18m and above.
With regards to the fund itself, it needs to be far quicker and easier to access. The portal is now open for the additional £1bn of funding for non-ACM cladding – as announced by the Chancellor in the Budget.
However, this must be better than the process last year, as the administrative burdens and short-time scale meant a significant number of people missed out and are continuing to live in unsafe buildings.
The required collection of state-aid signatures from all leaseholders living in a property caused significant delays, and there is shared view across the industry that the process must be greatly simplified for the second portion of funding so remedial works can be undertaken far quicker.
The fund should also spare leaseholders from associated costs, such as waking watches, high building insurance premiums and internal defects.
Longer term, the Government needs to implement a solution that will generate the funding needed to remediate all unsafe buildings across the UK. This requires an appreciation of the scale of the project – to remediate potentially tens of thousands of buildings could take 5-10 years, with people unable to move on with their lives in the meantime.
And the cost isn’t only financial, the stress and uncertainty that leaseholders face on a daily basis must also be taken into account. Whatever the solution, the bottom line remains that we cannot have people living in unsafe buildings. We need a comprehensive solution and we need it now.