9.This chapter considers the progress of remediation of buildings with combustible cladding, both aluminium composite material (ACM)—the cladding system used on Grenfell Tower—and non-ACM systems. It moves on to highlight the other fire safety concerns which have begun to emerge in recent years in many residential buildings. In this chapter, we call on the Government to pick up the pace of remediation of affected buildings, making recommendations for how this might be achieved.
10.There is already a high degree of transparency around the rate of remediation of high-rise buildings with ACM cladding, with the Government publishing a comprehensive Building Safety Programme: Monthly Data Release. The most recent update, issued in May 2020, reported that, of the 457 high-rise residential or other publicly owned buildings over 18 metres initially with ACM cladding, 149 had completed remediation works and 307 were yet to be remediated. Of the remaining residential buildings, 82 were in the social sector and 180 in the private sector. 140 buildings with ACM cladding were yet to start remediation works, although a majority had a plan in place to do so. The Minister highlighted to us that there was some regional variation in the rate of remediation: in Manchester, 80% of affected buildings have either been remediated or work is on site, compared to around half of buildings in London.
11.There is far less clarity on the numbers of buildings with combustible non-ACM cladding. The Local Government Association (LGA) explained that there was no official data on the number of such buildings and that a survey undertaken by local authorities on behalf of the Government was not yet complete. According to the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), in many cases, ‘unknown’ returns were being submitted to this survey. The Birmingham Leaseholder Action Group reported that a survey of buildings in the West Midlands would not be completed until December 2021.
12.While it is concerning that the Government does not yet have reliable data on the number of buildings with dangerous cladding—particularly given the length of time since the Grenfell Tower fire—officials have been able to estimate the scale of the problem. The Minister told us:
With non-ACM […] it is about 11,300 buildings, but my officials have given me a rough figure that probably the high-risk buildings with flammable cladding would be around the 1,700 mark.
13.In addition to those 300 buildings with ACM cladding awaiting remediation, we now know there are likely to be a further 11,300 buildings with other forms of combustible cladding, of which approximately 1,700 are high-risk and likely to require urgent remediation. Three years since the Grenfell Tower fire, to still have 2,000 high-risk residential buildings with dangerous cladding is deeply shocking and completely unacceptable.
14.In July 2018, following an inquiry into Building Regulations and Fire Safety, this Committee called for the Government to provide up-front funding for the remediation of all forms of dangerous cladding, and combustible insulation, from any high-rise or high-risk building. At the 2020 Spring Budget, the Chancellor announced a new £1 billion Building Safety Fund to remediate all unsafe materials from private and social sector residential buildings, above 18 metres in height—noting the recommendations of this Committee:
Expert advice is clear that new public funding must concentrate on removing unsafe materials from high-rise residential buildings. So today, I am creating a new building safety fund worth £1 billion […] That is what the experts have called for. That is what the Select Committee has called for. That is even what the Opposition have called for. That new fund will go beyond dealing with ACM to make sure that all unsafe combustible cladding will be removed from every private and social residential building above 18 metres high. My right hon. Friend the Housing Secretary will spearhead our efforts to make sure that developers and building owners do their fair share as well.
Supporting documents confirmed that the £1 billion would be additional to the existing £200 million fund for the remediation of ACM cladding from private sector properties and £400 million fund for social sector properties, taking total funding for the remediation of dangerous cladding to £1.6 billion.
15.The funding was welcomed as an important step by many stakeholders. ARMA told us that the funding “sends a strong message to the country that the Government is taking the matter seriously”. Manchester Cladiators, a group representing residents affected by fire safety issues, described the funding as “more than we expected” and “a huge step forward”. A spokesperson for Grenfell United said at the time that “a big step” had been taken and that the Government was “finally waking up to the severity of the situation”. However, these groups also expressed their view that the funding would be insufficient and needed to go further.
16.An area of particular concern has been the restriction of funding to buildings above 18 metres (although the Funding Prospectus, published in May 2020, made clear that there would be a 30cm tolerance). Several groups, including representatives of residents and freeholders, called for consistency with the Government’s consolidated Advice Note of January 2020, which said that buildings below 18 metres could also be high-risk and require urgent remediation of dangerous cladding. Long Harbour and HomeGround told us:
We are therefore concerned that limiting the fund to buildings over 18 metres in height excludes a potentially significant category of “high-risk” buildings already identified by the Government as a risk if combustible materials are present, and where the cost of remediation would otherwise be covered if the building did meet the height threshold. We cannot see the logic of this approach.
Several witnesses noted that the two most high-profile fires in the last year—at The Cube in Bolton and at Samuel Garside House in Barking—were in buildings below 18 metres. The National Fire Chiefs Council told us that, of the 100,000 buildings between 11 metres and 18 metres high, a number will require expenditure to address fire safety issues. ARMA called on the Government to prioritise buildings not just in terms of their height, but “primarily in terms of their risk profile”. We note, for example, a proposal for the development and implementation of a risk based priority rating system, which has recently been put forward by Ballymore and Urban Change. Indeed, we have previously called on the Government to use “a more complex risk matrix” when determining the scope of the Building Safety Bill; a similar approach may be appropriate here too.
17.In addition, we heard concerns from fire safety expert, Dr Jonathan Evans, that the Funding Prospectus excluded several buildings by adopting a methodology for ‘measuring the height of your building’—diagram D6 of Approved Document B—which measures height from the ground level to the surface of the top floor, as opposed to the roof level. Several buildings–which measure above 18 metres to the roof, but below 18 metres to the surface of the top floor–have therefore been excluded from applying to the fund.
18.Social sector representatives highlighted concerns that they would be prohibited from accessing the new Building Safety Fund, unless they were able to demonstrate they were ‘unable to pay’. A letter from Neil O’Connor, Director of Building Safety at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, on 6 April 2020 said:
In the social sector, [the Building Safety Fund] will focus on those landlords who are unable to pay […] We know many building owners in the social sector are already rightly prioritising and taking forward this remediation work. We expect them to continue with this action so we can prioritise this funding for those who cannot afford the cost, which is creating a barrier to remediation and building safety.
The Funding Prospectus clarified that there would be restrictions on funding for local authorities and other social housing providers:
[…] the Department will only fund works where remediation costs threaten the financial viability of the provider or the Housing Revenue Account. For local authorities, this will require a declaration from a section 151 officer at registration phase. Registered Providers (Housing Associations) will be required to provide a business case to the Department setting out their financial position and options. The Regulator of Social Housing must be notified as soon as possible.
19.The Mayor of London told us he was “particularly concerned about moves to exclude social landlords from accessing funding”, with accompanying evidence from the Greater London Authority explaining that this would negatively impact the social housing sector in four ways: reducing their ability to build genuinely affordable homes; taking resource away from repairs and maintenance on existing homes; forcing providers to increase rents; and requiring social sector leaseholders and shared owners to be recharged for remediation works. On this final concern, the Funding Prospectus clarified that a claim process will be opened in July 2020 for social providers where remediation costs which would otherwise be passed to leaseholders.
20.The Funding Prospectus also set out several further exclusions on applications to the fund, including for:
The Prospectus is clear that the fund is limited to £1 billion and will be operated on a first-come-first-served basis. We note as well that the application window for the fund is very narrow, closing before the end of July 2020, which may lead to the exclusion of buildings where it continues to be unclear whether unsafe cladding is present.
21.Taken on its own terms—a fund to remove and replace only combustible cladding on all buildings above 18 metres—it is clear that most organisations do not expect £1 billion to be sufficient. The Greater London Authority told us that the average cost of cladding remediation was £1.7 million per building, suggesting that the £1billion fund would only be sufficient to remediate approximately 600 buildings. It is important here to recall the Minister’s evidence that there are likely to be 1,700 buildings with non-ACM cladding requiring urgent remediation. The Greater Manchester High Rise Taskforce reported that the average cost for remediation of buildings in Greater Manchester was £4 million, meaning that approximately 25% of the fund could be required to fund remediation of high rise buildings within Greater Manchester alone. ARMA told us the fund was “clearly insufficient”, noting that the average cost of cladding remediation across ARMA members had been £1.62 million per building.
22.The Government appears to be fully aware that the fund will not be sufficient to cover all buildings within its scope. Neil O’Connor told the Committee that the cost of remediating all buildings is likely to be between £3 billion and £3.5 billion:
The Minister mentioned that we have a working assumption that there may be around 1,700 buildings over 18 metres with unsafe types of cladding out there. The cost of fully remediating all of that may be as much as £3 billion or £3.5 billion. These are very rough estimates that we are making at this stage.
23.The £1 billion Building Safety Fund announced by the Chancellor in March is much needed and very welcome. However, it is not “what the Select Committee called for”, as the Chancellor told the House. We called for–and continue to call for–a fund that:
24.It is clear that £1 billion will not be sufficient to remediate all 1,700 buildings with combustible non-ACM cladding above 18 metres. The Government’s own estimate is that this will cost between £3 billion and £3.5 billion. Our expectation is that the funding will only be sufficient for 600 buildings: one-third of the total. The Government should not allocate funding on a first-come-first-served basis and instead guarantee that additional money will be made available when it inevitably becomes necessary.
25.We are concerned by the number of exclusions that exist in the Funding Prospectus for the Building Safety Fund, which suggest that the Government is trying to find ways to fit a £3 billion liability into a £1 billion funding pot. In particular, it would be entirely wrong for social landlords to be prohibited from accessing the Building Safety Fund. If local authorities and social housing providers are forced to pay for remediation works from their own budgets, this would have a very detrimental impact on the number of affordable homes they are able to build and to the maintenance and refurbishment of existing buildings, while putting an upward pressure on social rents. The Government must ensure that social housing providers have full and equal access to the Building Safety Fund.
26.The Government should urgently clarify if they intend this fund to be a rolling fund whereby funding is provided to make buildings safe whilst attempting to secure return of costs from building owners. If this is the case, then the assumptions made should be published as well as the impact on costs not being recovered.
27.What has become very clear, particularly as extensive buildings surveys are undertaken of high-rise and high-risk buildings in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, is that fire safety problems extend far beyond dangerous cladding. Perhaps this should have been expected, given that Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety had found the construction industry to have a culture of ignorance of building regulations and associated guidance, indifference to the rules and a motivation to do things as quickly and cheaply as possible, and a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities. As Alex Di-Giuseppe of Manchester Cladiators said, “if there are problems on the outside, you can bet your bottom dollar that there are problems on the inside”.
28.This was one of the clearest messages from our survey of 1,350 residents. As anticipated, the vast majority (70%) told us about the different forms of combustible cladding that continue to require removal from their buildings. But a significant number also told us about other serious fire safety defects in their buildings. These included, but were not limited to: missing or inadequate fire breaks (noted by 34% of respondents), combustible or missing insulation (30%), timber balconies or walkways (14%) and inadequate fire doors (5%). Residents told us:
29.These are experiences confirmed by managing agents and freeholders. The Association of Residential Managing Agents (ARMA) told us, “Once remediation works commence and cladding systems are removed, it seems not uncommon to find that the construction of the building itself in terms of internal compartmentalisation and fire breaks in communal areas and between flats also require correction”. Similarly, freeholders Long Harbour and HomeGround reported that, where an intrusive investigation behind an external wall system has taken place, their experience has been that this often reveals other issues, such as missing barrier and cavity protection to prevent the spread of fire within voids, or poorly fitted components compromising the integrity of the system as a whole. The LGA also noted concerns around the historic issues with large panel system buildings, some of which have been found to have been inadequately strengthened or to have deteriorated significantly as they reach the end of their intended life.
30.It was also clear from the responses to our survey that there is an ongoing lack of clarity for residents regarding the extent of fire safety defects in their buildings. This was partly due to a lack of qualified professionals able to undertake the surveys to confirm whether or not there are internal fire safety defects in a building. But there is also a concerning lack of transparency. One respondent told us they had made, “repeated attempts to get the management agency to assess this but they have said they will not undertake a survey or carry out remedial work in the future”. Evidence from Hackney Council also noted how many residents were experiencing delays in the remediation of their buildings “due to a lack of transparency from building developers about what materials were used in the construction of their homes”, which had led to “many leaseholders spending countless hours trying to access [these] details”.
31.Too many residents are still unaware of whether their buildings are safe. Sometimes this is because their buildings are yet to be surveyed, due to a national shortage of qualified professionals. But often it is because developers, building owners and managing agents have unreasonably refused to pass information on. Where this is the case, the Government must compel those in positions of responsibility to be honest with their residents about fire safety defects in their buildings.
32.Representatives of residents, freeholders, managing agents, local authorities and others called on the Government to recognise that these issues are just as important to deal with as combustible cladding and should be included in an extended Building Safety Fund. Rituparna Saha, representing UKCAG, told us that there was “literally no difference” between combustible cladding and other construction defects:
I would really challenge anyone in Government to let me know what the difference is between a construction defect that caused combustible cladding to be put on the outside of a building and a construction defect that caused insulation to be used that was not fit for purpose or fire breaks to not be there […] so why are the Government funding one kind but not the other […] It makes no sense.
Manchester Cladiators also noted the lack of alignment between the Government’s own Advice Notes and the funding it had made available:
[…] there are lots of residents whose issues are not with unsafe cladding, but other serious fire safety issues including, but not limited to, the structural steel framework of the building not being fire protected, serious fire door issues and issues with deficient internal compartmentation between floors, flats and communal areas. We do not understand why these issues are acknowledged in the Government’s Advice Note 14, but they are not currently eligible for the Building Safety Fund. They must be aligned.
33.Long Harbour and HomeGround explained that, without additional funding from the Government, it “may potentially still leave leaseholders facing significant costs for mitigating safety measures that are not covered by current funding proposals”. Indeed, Rituparna Saha told us that there was a block in east London where the leaseholders have already been billed between £83,000 and £250,000 per flat to fix issues associated with insulation and lack of fire breaks.
34.Funding for other fire safety defects would, of course, be very expensive for the Government. Widely quoted in our evidence was the National Housing Federation’s estimate, from March 2020, that the cost of fixing all fire safety issues in the social sector alone could “easily exceed” £10 billion. Of course, it is very difficult to estimate the potential cost of a scheme that would include private sector buildings. But if we are to take as instructive that twice as much money was provided for the removal of ACM cladding on social sector buildings (£400 million) as was the case for private sector buildings (£200 million), then one might use a similar ratio to estimate an overall cost of £15 billion to remediate all fire safety defects from both social and private sector buildings in England.
35.The Government’s own Advice Notes make clear that it is more than just combustible cladding that requires urgent remediation. There is no point fixing the cladding, but leaving a building fundamentally unsafe. We believe that there is no reason to fund the remediation of some fire safety defects but not others. Our view is that funding will need to be increased to address all fire safety defects in every high-rise or high-risk residential building—potentially costing up to £15 billion.
36.We recognise that this would be an expensive commitment and we would much prefer to see that money spent on social care, homelessness services or social housing. But if the Government doesn’t step in and provide this funding, let us be clear: it means tens of thousands of residents sent massive bills for problems that aren’t their fault, which, in many cases, will be a financial burden from which they will never recover and could in some cases lead to potential bankruptcy; 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, with people continuing to live in dangerous buildings for years to come.
37.We recognise that it is not enough simply to propose an additional £15 billion of Government spending; it is also important to consider how it might be paid for. Were the Building Safety Fund to be extended in the way we have called for, consideration would need to be given to the extent to which contributions should ultimately be shared by taxpayers, leaseholders, freeholders, developers, product manufacturers, local authority building control and Approved Inspectors, and other stakeholders in the sector.
38.There was unanimity in our evidence that residents should not be responsible in any way for paying for remediation works. Rituparna Saha, representing the UKCAG, told us:
These are not defects that we had any hand in creating, so why on earth should we be made legally and financially responsible for fixing these defects? It does not happen in any other sector. If you buy a toaster that is found to be defective, you return and you get your money back. If you buy a car and the engine starts bursting, you would return it and the car would be recalled. How is it that in the issue of building safety it is the end consumer, who had nothing to do with causing these defects, that is being held liable for paying for these defects? This must change.
The Minister agreed, telling us that these costs should not fall on leaseholders: “I feel very bad about that. I really stand four-square behind the leaseholders. This is not something that should be burdening them”.
39.In his letter giving Ministerial direction for the implementation of the Building Safety Fund, the Secretary of State appears to have accepted that taxpayers will “pick up a significant proportion of the costs” of the existing £1 billion Building Safety Fund. However, several respondents to our survey expressed their view that taxpayers should not be ultimately responsible for remedial works, instead calling on the Government to ensure that those who caused this crisis are held accountable in the longer term.
40.Establishing blame for this crisis has not been easy. Indeed, in the case of the Grenfell Tower fire, a police investigation and Public Inquiry continue to examine these issues. More generally, however, several stakeholders—particularly freeholders—told us that they blamed the Government for its failure to effectively regulate building and fire safety. Others, including the Local Government Association, pointed to failures in the construction industry, telling us that “the developers who have profited from providing inadequate buildings should be required to pay their share of the bill”.
41.An area of particular focus has been on who signed-off affected buildings as safe. In some cases, developers were able to choose their own Approved Inspectors to sign off a property as safe—something the Committee has previously noted as a clear conflict of interest and which the Government has prohibited in future. In other cases, buildings were signed off by local authority Building Control teams, where, some argue, developers might not necessarily be blamed for the fire defects. Neil O’Connor, Director of Building Safety, told us, however, that getting building sign-off does not let a developer off their responsibility to comply with the building regulations:
The law is that the building regulations apply and the responsibility for complying with them applies to the person conducting the works. Getting building control sign-off does not let you off that responsibility. The legal requirement that you have to meet—not what is written in the guidance but the actual statutory legal requirement—is to build in a way that adequately resists the spread of fire up the external wall […] The onus is on the person doing the work to get that right.
42.Freeholders called on the Government to introduce a longer-term funding solution that would spread the burden of these costs as widely as possible. They proposed four potential solutions, including:
They estimated that these measures could raise £450 million per year.
43.Funding of remediation should reflect where blame lies. It is clear that there have been widespread failures. What is also clear, however, is that residents are in no way to blame and it is our view that they should bear none of the cost of remediation.
44.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. Those who are responsible for this crisis should be made to contribute. For each affected building, the Government should actively seek to recover funds from the construction companies, architects, suppliers of faulty products, approved inspectors and any others who are found to be responsible for fire safety defects.
45.Consideration should also be given to how the remaining burden for funding should be shared. The Government should undertake a review of proportionate taxes on freeholders, developers and others to help fund these remedial works. This should include consideration of a temporary levy linked to the sale of new-build properties, as has been proposed by some industry stakeholders.
46.The Government has failed to meet the targets it has set for the remediation of buildings with combustible ACM cladding. In July 2019, the then Secretary of State, Rt Hon James Brokenshire, told the House;
My expectation is that, other than in exceptional circumstances, building owners should complete remediation within six months of agreeing a plan–by June 2020.
When he made that commitment, there were 324 high-rise residential and publicly owned buildings with ACM cladding systems unlikely to meet Building Regulations yet to be remediated in England. Almost one year on, there are still 307 such buildings. There has been much criticism of the slow pace of remediation of buildings with ACM cladding. The NFCC told us, “[…] it is clear the pace of remediation has not moved quickly enough”. The slow progress has been acknowledged by the Government, with Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Building Safety, telling us:
[…] there are a considerable number of sites that have not even started remediation of ACM, which […] is completely unacceptable.
47.If lessons are to be learned for the remediation of a wider range of fire safety defects, it is important to consider why it has taken so long for ACM cladding to be removed from high-rise buildings.
48.The Minister put much of the blame on the building owners, the freeholders, for not meeting their responsibilities to keep buildings safe. He told us that freeholders who had not yet initiated building works, despite having had access to Government funding for the last nine months, should be viewed as “pariahs” in the business world:
We cannot allow these people to have a good name if they are the beneficial owner of a building, three years on from Grenfell, that still has unsafe cladding. It is an absolute outrage that they have pocketed all of that money and are sitting in the Cayman Islands, enjoying the fruits of that, and not fixing this problem. It is simply unacceptable.
Freeholders, including Wallace Partnership Group, defended the role that they had played, particularly in the period before Government funding had been made available for private sector buildings. They noted how many freeholders had “looked for other solutions that protect homeowners from the cost”, including pursuing warranty claims and persuading original developers to fund the repairs.
49.Others said that the Government should share some of the blame for the slow progress of remediation. Manchester Cladiators argued that “The Government must be held to account for its flawed strategy and resulting severe delays and now take urgent steps to make buildings safe”. They criticised the Government’s initial approach of asking developers and freeholders not to pass on the costs of remediation to leaseholders, while knowing that, in most cases, they were under no legal obligation to do so. Protracted arguments over who was responsible for funding remediation works had been a significant contributor to these ongoing delays.
50.One of the clearest lessons of the last three years is that remedial works are unlikely to take place unless the Government provides funding—or, where they do, costs will almost always be passed on to leaseholders. This is an argument the Government appears to have now accepted for the remediation cladding. In a letter giving Ministerial direction for the implementation of the Building Safety Fund, the Secretary of State noted that Government funding was “the only effective way to achieve this”:
To not do so will leave residents facing unacceptable risks and costs. The Prime Minister and I are clear that this cannot continue and that where possible leaseholders should not be facing life changing costs […] I am persuaded that, having considered several alternatives, the only effective way to achieve this increase at the current time is to remove the financial barriers to remediation. In practice, I am clear that removing the constraint created by the need to pass on costs to leaseholders will be the most effective way to increase pace. I expect building owners to have done everything they can to pursue other funding options before calling on the taxpayer or their leaseholders to meet the cost of work.
51.The Government has not applied this principle to other fire safety defects, however. When asked whether funding would be extended, the Minister emphasised that the Building Safety Fund was put in place to remediate unsafe cladding only and that, where costs extended beyond cladding, “the Government will not fund all of this”. He told us that it was “building owners that have a duty to do this” and that costs should not be passed on to leaseholders:
[…] what we have said is that the building owners should do the right thing for this. The people who have made profits on these buildings—the building owners, the freeholders and the developers—should not be passing these costs on to leaseholders.
The call for freeholders to fund remediation works is one that Ministers have made repeatedly over the last three years. However, it should be noted that, in most cases, freeholders have no legal responsibility for paying for these works. A moral duty is not legally enforceable. Further, the fiduciary duty owed by directors of commercial companies to their shareholders could represent a conflict for those considering who should meet the cost of fire safety works.
52.It is concerning that the Government is again falling back on the argument that responsibility for paying for the remediation of fire safety defects is the responsibility of ‘building owners’. Freeholders do have a legal responsibility to ensure remedial works are undertaken, but they usually do not have a legal duty to pay for them, regardless of how we feel about the morality of the situation. The last three years has shown that building owners simply will not ‘do the right thing’—however often Ministers ask—and leaseholders will continue to receive extremely high bills for things that aren’t their fault. If the Government wants this to change, it has to intervene directly.
53.The Minister for Building Safety was deliberately cautious not to set a new ‘target’ for the remediation of buildings with ACM cladding, preferring instead to talk of his ‘ambition’ for all remaining buildings to be remediated by the end of 2021:
One ambition, as opposed to a commitment, is that the objective for the ACM fund is that, despite covid, we get on site with all those […] buildings by the end of the year, and then the works follow on from that and will be completed sometime in 2021 […] I accept that previous targets have not been made and this was not really presented to you as a target. I am saying the ambition is to get on site by the end of this year[…] I am giving you our honest ambition, but this is not just dependent on MHCLG or central Government. It is something where we do need to march in step at all levels of government to make this happen.
54.It is also important to note just how complex many of these remediation projects are—although this is no excuse for not having begun remedial works at all. The Greater London Authority (GLA) told us that, “Cladding remediation is complex and takes time to carry out competently and thoroughly”, and that the entire duration of cladding remediation on a high-rise building often takes around two years. This was supported by the Greater Manchester High Rise Taskforce who noted that, of the 20 buildings in their area for which timescales had been provided, eight would take in excess of two years to complete remedial works.
55.We believe that there needs to be an urgent national effort to remediate all affected buildings, starting now. The Government should set a realistic target—not merely an ‘ambition’—that all buildings of any height with ACM cladding should be fully remediated of all fire safety defects by December 2021. Buildings with any other fire safety defect, including non-ACM cladding, should be remediated before the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2022.
56.In the same way as it has done for buildings with ACM cladding, the Government should publish a monthly data release on the number of buildings with non-ACM cladding and other serious fire safety defects awaiting remediation.
57.Setting a target, or having an ‘ambition’ is one thing, but having a plan to achieve it is another. In addition to the funding for the remediation of buildings above 18 metres with any form of dangerous cladding, the Government has implemented new enforcement powers for local authorities through an addendum to the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) in November 2018, which has led to local authorities taking formal action against at least 20 buildings. It is putting into legislation a new Fire Safety Bill, which will clarify that building owners, and their managing agents, are responsible for ensuring the safety of the external walls of the building, including cladding, allowing Fire and Rescue authorities to take enforcement action where building owners do not meet their responsibilities (although this would not stop them passing on bills to affected leaseholders). It will soon bring forward a Building Safety Bill, to implement the recommendations of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, which this Committee looks forward to scrutinising in detail. In February 2020, the Government named and shamed freeholders who had failed to begin remediation works, despite the availability of funding—it is right for us to do so again here:
As noted by the Minister, however, most of these are shell companies where the beneficial owner is hidden and “naming and shaming shell companies is not particularly effective”.
58.So what more could the Government reasonably do to speed up the pace of remediation? One of the options noted by the Minister was an increased use of Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) powers to purchase the freehold of buildings where current building owners are failing to undertake remedial works:
We know that authorities have compulsory purchase powers to step in and take buildings away from those people who are not fulfilling their legal obligations, and that may be a default option […] “Whatever it takes to get this done” has to be the mantra of government at every level.
We are not aware of any circumstances where CPO powers have been used this way in this way by local authorities. We expect this is largely due to the fact that such processes are complex, time-consuming and expensive.
59.We would support a much more extensive use of Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) powers, to take direct ownership of the freehold of buildings with serious fire safety defects. The Government should give urgent consideration to the setting up of a new national body whose sole purpose is to purchase the freehold and manage the remediation of buildings with serious fire safety defects. This new body should step in where overburdened local authorities are unable or unwilling to act. The valuation of buildings under CPO should consider the cost of remediation and this should be deducted from any financial consideration paid to the building owner. Consideration of legislative changes should be included in the forthcoming Building Safety Bill. Any residential building where works have not commenced by December 2020 should be subject to a CPO by this new body.
60.Once a building has been fully remediated, the new body should take the opportunity to convert freeholds into commonhold, kick-starting a revolution in how such buildings are owned and managed in future—as we called for in our Leasehold Reform report in April 2019. Leaseholders in such buildings should be consulted and informed of the costs and responsibilities involved. The aim should be to empower existing leaseholders.
61.We also heard concerns around the ability of those responsible for buildings to gain access to leaseholder-owned properties in multi-occupancy residential buildings. London Councils told us that new legislation may be required to address an emerging problem for many social landlords:
The Building Safety Manager (BSM) and/or the accountable person will not be able to holistically manage a building without robust powers to enter, inspect, and enforce action where appropriate. A recent High Court ruling against Oxford [City] Council in Piechnik v Oxford CC stated that the council does not have the right to access a leaseholder property in a social block to install fire safety improvements.
62.The Government should undertake a review to determine whether new legislation will be required to ensure those responsible for building safety have a legal right to gain access to leaseholder-owned properties in multi-occupancy residential buildings. The Government should publish its findings within six months and undertake to bring forward whatever legislation may be necessary to remedy the situation. The forthcoming Building Safety Bill should provide the necessary clauses to enable the Secretary of State to implement any requirements by secondary legislation.
63.It is clearly important that, where remediation works are taking place, we can have full confidence that any new materials that are used are safe. Some assurance can come from the ban on the use of combustible materials in the external walls of high-rise residential buildings, something Neil O’Connor (Director for Building Safety at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) described as “the key change”. The combustible cladding ban was implemented in November 2018, following calls from this Committee, local authorities and other stakeholders for restrictions on the use of flammable materials in the external wall surfaces of high-rise and high-risk buildings. The ban restricted the use of materials in an external wall and specified attachments to those achieving Class A2-s1, d0 or Class A1 and applied to any building with a storey at least 18 metres above ground level that contain one or more dwellings, an institution, or a room for residential purposes (excluding hostels, hotels, or a boarding house). The Government is currently undertaking a review of the ban on combustible cladding, proposing to extend its scope to all buildings—including hostels, hotels, and boarding houses—above 11 metres.
64.However, concerns remain around the adequacy of the testing regime used to determine the safety of products. Mr O’Connor told us that the Government had banned the use of desktop studies and noted:
We do not even allow systems that have been put through the old British Standard BS 8414 test, which is a wall system test. All of those things are no longer permissible for cladding on high-rise buildings. That is the fundamental change.
However, we recall that the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety concluded that, “the product testing, labelling and marketing regime is opaque and insufficient” and called for a “more effective testing regime”. We are reminded of evidence we heard in 2018 from Mirella Vitale, Senior Vice President at Rockwool, who described the BS 8414 large-scale fire safety test as “deeply flawed”, arguing that it did not “reflect real life conditions”, failed to assess “the extreme, the worst possible scenario”, and did not reach “incontestable conclusions”. While others, including Sir Ken Knight, then told us that this was a “very high-bar test”, we concluded that:
The Government should work with fire safety experts and the industry to agree a new testing regime that has much wider industry support and can be fully trusted. A new system should better reflect real-world conditions, reach near-incontestable conclusions, and be more transparent, with details of test failures and re-run tests made publicly available.
In its response to our report, the Government did not take forward our recommendation for a review of the testing regime.
65.While we recognise the importance of the combustible cladding ban and the discontinuation of the use of desktop studies, we remain concerned that there is a lack of consensus around the efficacy of the wider testing regime. We reiterate our call for a review of product testing, including the performance of materials in real-life scenarios such as windows, vents or other openings, leading to the implementation of a regime that can command wider industry support and bring reassurance to residents.
10 , Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
11 (Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Building Safety)
12 Local Government Association ()
13 National Fire Chiefs Council ()
14 Birmingham Leaseholder Action Group ()
15 (Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Building Safety)
16 , HC 2546, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, 18 July 2019, paras 28, 35, 40 and 47.
17 , HM Treasury, 11 March 2020
18 Association of Residential Managing Agents ()
19 As reported in: , The Guardian, 11 March 2020
20 As reported in: , Inside Housing, 11 March 2020
21 (Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Building Safety)
22 , Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, January 2020
23 Long Harbour and HomeGround ()
24 (Rituparna Saha, UK Cladding Action Group)
25 National Fire Chiefs Council ()
26 Association of Residential Managing Agents ()
27 External wall fire risk in multi-occupied residential buildings: A proposal for the development and implementation of a risk based priority rating system, Ballymore and Urban Change, May 2020
28 , HC 2546, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, 18 July 2019, para 65
29 Letter to the Chair from Dr Jonathan Evans, Chairman of Ash and Lacy (28 May 2020)
30 For example, Local Government Association () and National Housing Federation ()
31 , letter to stakeholders from Neil O’Connor, Director of Building Safety at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, 6 April 2020
32 , Registration Prospectus, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, 26 May 2020, page 6
33 Greater London Authority / Mayor of London ()
34 , Registration Prospectus, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, 26 May 2020, page 6
35 , Registration Prospectus, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, 26 May 2020, page 6
36 , Registration Prospectus, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, 26 May 2020, page 8
37 Greater London Authority / Mayor of London ()
38 (Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Building Safety)
39 Greater Manchester High Rise Taskforce ()
40 Association of Residential Managing Agents ()
41 (Neil O’Connor, Director for Building Safety, MHCLG)
42 , 17 May 2018, page 5
43 (Alex Di-Giuseppe, Manchester Cladiators)
44 , Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, 6 May 2020
45 Association of Residential Managing Agents ()
46 Long Harbour and HomeGround ()
47 Local Government Association ()
48 (Rituparna Saha, UK Cladding Action Group)
49 , Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, 6 May 2020
50 Hackney Council ()
51 (Rituparna Saha, UK Cladding Action Group)
52 Manchester Cladiators ()
53 Long Harbour and HomeGround ()
54 (Rituparna Saha, UK Cladding Action Group)
55 , The Guardian, 2 March 2020
56 (Rituparna Saha, UK Cladding Action Group)
57 (Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Building Safety)
58 Letter from the Secretary of State to the Permanent Secretary, 26 May 2020
59 , Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, 6 May 2020
60 Long Harbour and HomeGround () and Consensus Business Group ()
61 Local Government Association ()
62 HC 555, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, 18 July 2018
63 (Neil O’Connor, Director for Building Safety, MHCLG)
64 Consensus Business Group ()
65 , Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
66 National Fire Chiefs Council ()
67 (Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Building Safety)
68 (Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Building Safety)
69 Wallace Partnership Group ()
70 Manchester Cladiators ()
71 Letter from the Secretary of State to the Permanent Secretary, 26 May 2020
72 (Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Building Safety)
73 (Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Building Safety)
74 This is a summary of points put forward by Bob Neill MP during a Westminster Hall debate on 6 March 2018 ()
75 (Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Building Safety)
76 Greater London Authority / Mayor of London ()
77 Greater Manchester High Rise Taskforce ()
78 (Neil O’Connor, Director for Building Safety, MHCLG)
79 , House of Commons Library, 27 April 2020
80 , 19 December 2019
81 , Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (accessed: 25 May 2020)
82 (Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Building Safety)
83 (Lord Greenhalgh, Minister for Building Safety)
84 London Councils ()
85 (Neil O’Connor, Director for Building Safety, MHCLG)
86 , Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, 29 November 2018
87 , Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, January 2020
88 , Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, January 2020
89 , 17 May 2018, page 11
90 (Mirella Vitale, Rockwool), 27 June 2018
91 HC 555, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, 18 July 2018, para 49
92 , CM 9706, para 17
Published: 12 June 2020