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Housing

Government has one year to fix Grenfell cladding scandal, says Labour

The opposition party has called on the Government to step up plans to remove cladding after New Providence Wharf fire ‘wake-up call’

The government must speed up efforts to remove unsafe and combustible cladding from buildings, says Labour, by setting up a national cladding taskforce and giving developers a hard June 2022 deadline to complete the work. 

The opposition party has tabled an amendment to the Queen’s Speech to force ministers to protect leaseholders from the cost of remediation works and force developers to pay as hundreds of thousands of people still live in buildings deemed a fire hazard. 

Shadow housing secretary Lucy Powell said: “This is the biggest building scandal in modern history, and instead of decisive leadership to solve it, government delays are putting lives at risk.

“The government must step up and end the waking nightmare for millions of residents trapped in unsafe, unsellable homes. Through no fault of their own, leaseholders’ lives are on hold, faced with crippling costs, with the fear of fire a real and present danger for many.”

The government plans to create a building safety regulator as part of a Building Safety Bill to ensure “the tragedies of the past are never repeated”. The statement came just weeks before the fourth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster which killed 72 people with unsafe cladding partly to blame for the fire.

But Labour wants the Government to go further. As well as a deadline to remove cladding and a taskforce to oversee the work, Labour is calling for new legislation to protect residents from remediation work costs.

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A government spokesperson told The Big Issue their £5bn fund will help thousands of leaseholders pay for repairs.“Fixing unsafe cladding is the building owner’s responsibility and we will ensure that industry pays its fair share towards the costs of cladding remediation through a new levy and tax, striking the right balance in protecting leaseholders and being fair to taxpayers.”

The new Building Safety Bill, published in draft form in June 2020 before being mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, will create a new regulator overseen by the Health and Safety Executive to improve fire and structural safety of new and existing residential buildings.

But who will pay for the cost of removing cladding and associated remediation works has already been a sticking point in Westminster with MPs and peers split over plans to support leaseholders facing huge bills to remove dangerous cladding.

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The issue sparked debate in parliament during Fire Safety Bill discussions last month. The bill aimed to prevent another tragedy like Grenfell, clarifying who is responsible for managing reducing fire risk in multi-occupied, residential buildings, including external wall cladding and common areas.

The legislation passed through both houses at the eleventh hour in the last parliamentary session after peers and MPs debated the issue several times ahead of the April 29 deadline. Peers wanted a grant and loan scheme to support leaseholders while the UK Government refused to budge, instead offering a £5bn package to cover work on unsafe buildings.

But ministers have had a “wake-up call” since that bill passed into law, according to campaigners End Our Cladding Scandal (EOCS). A fire at New Providence Wharf in Poplar, East London, on May 7 saw 44 people treated for injuries. The flats had dangerous aluminium composite material cladding on approximately 22 per cent of the façade, according to operator Ballymore Group.

An EOCS spokesperson said ministers “should do the right thing” and commit to upfront funding and a deadline to end the cladding crisis. 

“Ministers continue to bury their heads in the sand about the extent of the building safety crisis – just as they continue to keep their fingers crossed that another tragedy, on the scale of Grenfell Tower, will not occur. The recent fire at New Providence Wharf should be a wake up call for them.

“A national cladding taskforce will help ensure leaseholders aren’t left having sleepless nights, and for many of us who want to get our lives back on track, get the market moving again.”

In response, a Government spokesperson said: “The Government is bringing forward the biggest improvements to building and fire safety in 40 years, including a comprehensive £5 billion plan to help protect hundreds of thousands of leaseholders.

“This is an important step towards restoring confidence in the housing market – reassuring lenders that where cladding remediation is needed, costs will not be a barrier or mean that mortgage payments become unmanageable.”

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