On 14 June, we will remember the 72 residents of Grenfell Tower who paid such a terrible price for what was a catastrophic failure of industry and Government. While much has changed in the 1,000 days since the fire—including the ban on combustible cladding and the announcement of a new £1 billion Building Safety Fund—it is clear that there is still more to do. This Committee investigated the progress of remediation of high-rise and high-risk buildings, the direct and indirect costs for residents, and wider fire safety concerns that were emerging. Our findings were as follows:
We have called on the Government to ensure that all buildings of any height with ACM cladding should be fully remediated of all fire safety defects by December 2021. Buildings with other fire safety defects, including non-ACM cladding, should be remediated before the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2022.
Last year, we called for funding for buildings with non-ACM cladding and so the Building Safety Fund announced at the Budget is very welcome. However, £1 billion is only likely to be sufficient for 600 buildings; a third of the number the Government accepts are at the highest risk.
With a limited application window, the effective exclusion of social housing providers, and a ban on applications where works started before March 2020, the Government is clearly trying to find ways to fit a £3 billion liability into a £1 billion funding pot. These exclusions are wrong and funding should not be allocated on a first-come-first served basis. The Government must ensure that social housing providers have full and equal access to the Building Safety Fund.
Residents are facing life-changing bills for more than just combustible cladding. If the Government doesn’t provide additional funding, let us be clear: it means tens of thousands of residents sent massive bills for problems that aren’t their fault, and which, in many cases, will be a financial burden from which they will never recover; it means thousands fewer affordable homes, as councils and housing associations are forced to divert funds to remediation projects; and worst of all, it will mean that some works are never carried out.
Residents are already receiving bills of thousands of pounds for 24-hour ‘waking watch’ fire patrols and new fire alarm systems. None of these things are the fault of residents and they shouldn’t be the ones forced to pay.
Given the urgency of these remediation works, it is necessary for the Government to provide the funding up front. However, it cannot be fair for the financial burden of remediating buildings to rest solely with taxpayers. On individual buildings, we would support the Government taking legal action to ensure those responsible are made to pay. The Government should also undertake a review of proportionate taxes on developers, freeholders and others to help fund these remedial works.
Any residential building where works have not commenced by December 2020 should be subject to a CPO. The national body would step in where overburdened local authorities are unable or unwilling to act. Once remediated, buildings should be converted to commonhold and returned to leaseholders.
The industry-designed EWS1 process was put in place to allow mortgage providers to make informed lending decisions on high-rise residential properties potentially at risk of serious fire safety defects. However, it is a slow and expensive process and we are concerned that it is being applied to an unnecessarily wide range of buildings.
We have heard clear evidence of the physical and mental health toll that this crisis has had on residents. We view this as a public health crisis and the Government must do so as well. The Government should provide basic information to every resident, signposting to services for those worried about their safety or financial situation.
Published: 12 June 2020