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Cladding: Why is it unsafe and what money has the government promised?

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Residents of some blocks deemed to be unsafe have been forced to leave

Flat owners should not have to pay for dangerous cladding to be removed from their buildings, according to Housing Secretary Michael Gove.

He said plans had been paused for a loan scheme to help pay for repairs required after the Grenfell fire.

What is cladding and how does it affect flat owners?

Cladding is the process of adding a new layer of material to the outside of a building.

It may be installed to increase insulation or weather protection, or to improve the building’s appearance.

But some cladding has been found to be combustible, prompting a building safety crisis affecting thousands.

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Builders remove cladding from a block in Greater Manchester

The cost of making a block of flats safe is supposed to be absorbed by the owners of the whole building (and the land) – the freeholder.

But in practice the cost is often passed on to the owners of individual flats (also known as leaseholders).

These leaseholders have to pay for extra fire safety measures – sometimes including patrol officers – until cladding or insulation is stripped off.

According to one pressure group, the cost can run into tens of thousands of pounds.

It can also be difficult for flat-owners to sell their property – even if the cladding is classed as low risk – because some lenders are refusing to offer mortgages on them.

What is the government saying?

Mr Gove, who was appointed in September, said he was “unhappy with the principle of leaseholders having to pay” towards refurbishments, despite schemes aimed at capping their costs.

The government has pledged more than £5bn to remove unsafe cladding from the highest-risk buildings – those over 18m high – partly funded by a levy on the biggest developers.

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Residents of an estate in Camden, north London, were asked to evacuate in 2017 due to cladding concerns

Campaigners have said many people living in buildings under 18m would be “saddled with debt” under the scheme.

The government has said the height distinction is based on the level of risk. It says buildings between 18m and 30m high are four times as likely to have a fire with “fatalities or serious casualties” than apartment buildings in general.

What about other safety measures?

As well as concerns about cladding costs, campaigners say thousands of leaseholders also face large bills to pay for other safety measures not covered by the scheme.

This includes fire breaks, new balconies, safety doors and sprinkler systems.

Mr Gove said it was his intention to offer support for these costs.

What are developers paying?

As well as a tax on some developers, the government is changing the law retrospectively, extending the rights of leaseholders to sue for what ministers call “shoddy workmanship”.

The legislation would increase the period in which legal action against developers can be brought to 15 years.

But campaigners have called this a “distraction tactic”, saying legal action would not be a practical option in most cases.

How is this connected to the Grenfell fire tragedy?

In June 2017, a fire broke out in the Grenfell Tower block in west London, killing 72 people.

The first phase of an inquiry said cladding installed during refurbishment helped the fire spread because it was made from combustible material.

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Grenfell fire protesters have campaigned for more clarity over the cladding used on the tower block

Safety inspections on other high-rise blocks revealed not just dangerous cladding, but other fire safety faults including defective insulation, flammable balconies and missing fire breaks.

How many people are affected?

There isn’t a single number on this.

The government has identified 462 high-rise residential buildings with dangerous cladding. It has been fully removed from more than 200 of these, with removal work underway on most of the others.

But these figures only cover buildings that are over 18m tall, with the type of cladding used on Grenfell Tower.

The government does not supply regular statistics on other types of building.

About half a million people are living in a building with some form of unsafe cladding, the Association of Residential Managing Agents says.

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