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Housing

Grenfell: Ending the cladding crisis could take until 2043, warns Labour

Ahead of the fourth anniversary of the Grenfell disaster, new analysis from Labour finds people could be stuck in unsafe homes for 22 years. But the UK government has hit back at the claims, branding them “irresponsible scaremongering”

Removing dangerous cladding from buildings could take until 2043, the Labour Party has warned ahead of the fourth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Analysing UK government figures on the building safety crisis, the opposition party found the pace of removing all cladding from buildings across the UK could take 22 years if the remediation works continue at the same pace seen so far. However, the government has hit back against the claims, branding them “irresponsible scaremongering”.

How many more years will the government allow people to live in unsafe homes?  

Aluminum composite material (ACM) cladding has been cited as one of the main triggers behind the spread of the fire at Grenfell Tower on June 14 2017, killing 72 people.

Calling for all homes to be made safe within a year, Labour’s shadow housing secretary Lucy Powell said: “How many more years will the government allow people to live in unsafe homes?  

“The government’s woeful lack of leadership is condemning hundreds of thousands of people to a living nightmare, wondering if the next disaster will occur on their block. The whole system is clogged, and most of the funding hasn’t even been paid out.

“We cannot pass another Grenfell anniversary with people living in unsafe homes. The government should set a deadline to make all homes safe by June 2022, and back this up with funding, enforcement and support for residents at the heart of this crisis.”

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Labour’s analysis of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG) monthly building safety data found remediation work to remove ACM cladding has not been completed on 217 buildings over 18 metres in height. Of these, 107 still have ACM cladding on their façade four years after the Grenfell disaster showed the threat the cladding poses to human life. 

Between May 2020 and April 2021, remediation work was completed on an average of eight buildings with ACM cladding per month. The party also reported 1,890 buildings over 18m in height have applied to the government’s Building Safety Fund and seen their application deemed ineligible or withdrawn.

Taking the current pace of works to remove ACM cladding as a guide, Labour estimated it will take 262 months to remediate the estimated 2,107 buildings over 18m with dangerous cladding on them, taking until April 2043.

In the meantime, around 230,000 people will be stuck with unsafe homes, Labour said, threatening their safety and rendering the homes all but worthless on the housing market.  MHCLG estimates found each high-rise building has 58 dwellings on average with a typical household size of around two people. 

Labour also reported funding is available to fix the issue but the demand for materials and work has resulted in a “clogged up system”.

However, a spokesperson for the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government told The Big Issue the analysis “incorrectly interprets the department’s published data on registrations to the Building Safety Fund”.

The spokesperson added Labour had “mistakenly assumed all buildings that have registered have dangerous cladding and are eligible” and combining the number of remediatied buildings with ACM cladding and the estimated number of high-rise residential buildings with non-ACM cladding into one statistic was inappropriate.

A government spokesperson told The Big Issue: “These misleading claims are completely false. It is irresponsible scaremongering which ignores the significant progress that has been made in removing dangerous cladding. Work is completed or underway in 95 per cent of buildings identified by the start of 2020 as having ACM cladding.

“Our priority is making sure residents are safe by removing dangerous cladding from the highest risk buildings as quickly as possiblebacked by over £5 billion of government funding.”

The UK government has promised to pay for the removal of unsafe cladding for leaseholders in all residential buildings 18m in height. A £3.5bn fund has been made available to remove the non-ACM cladding but Labour said £3.1bn is yet to be paid out. 

£1bn has been set aside to remove ACM cladding while low-rise building leaseholders face a controversial loans scheme to pay for remediation works.

While Labour is pushing for the building safety crisis to be cleared up within a year, leaseholders are under no illusions of the long battle ahead as they continue to live unsafe homes four years after the Grenfell disaster.

Jenni Garratt, who lives in the Wicker Riverside buildings in Sheffield, told The Big Issue fire safety issues go far beyond just cladding and urged the government to pay to fix all defects upfront before taking legal action to pursue developers.

It is a process that will take longer than Labour’s June 2022 deadline, she warned.

“I do think a deadline is helpful because it holds the government to account and it would give us all a light at the end of the tunnel to be looking at,” said Garratt. 

“But I think the deadline does need to be realistic. Every affected building in the country is looking for all of this construction material at the moment and it is not possible to fix every building by this time next year.

“But what the government could do today is to put all of our minds at rest and say: ‘You will not have to fund this’.” 

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