Thousands of flats still in dangerously clad blocks of flats as removal deadline is missed

Ninety-one tower blocks in the social housing sector with approximately 7,000 flats remain clad in the dangerous ‘Grenfell-style’ ACM panels, after the end of year deadline for its removal was missed. There are many more thousands of flats covered in other flammable materials for which there are no removal plans.

Remediation work has started on 77 of the 91 blocks, but work has yet to start on the remaining 14 blocks in the social sector although remediation work plans exist for 13 of them. A plan for removal of Aluminium Composite Material panels from the last block is still being drawn up.

Clearly irritated by the slow progress being made, the Government has written to the owners of social and private sector tower blocks, threatening to name and shame them, where they have yet to remove and replace ACM cladding. The housing secretary Robert Jenrick told the Commons that “inaction must have consequences”.

So far cladding removal and remediation work has been completed on 68 of the 159 blocks owned and managed by councils and housing associations. This has made just over 4,500 flats safe, equivalent to 41 per cent.

Some £400million was made available by the Government to fund the removal work, with allocations agreed for 144 of the blocks. An application is expected for one other block, while the remaining 14 are having the remediation work funded through the landlords’ own resources and legal action.

The position is much worse in the private sector where 174 blocks are yet to have the ACM panels removed. These buildings account for approximately 12,400 to 16,800 flats. Works have been completed at just 23 tower blocks, where between 2,000 and 2,600 flats have been made safe, or less than 19 per cent.

Of the 174 blocks still awaiting remediation, 31 have started remediation – an increase of four from the end of November. Latest intelligence is that there are six buildings that are known to be vacant, having started remediation or with an intent to remediate or remediation plans in place.

143 blocks are awaiting remediation work to start or for plans to be drawn up before works can commence. These blocks account for between 12,400 and 16,800 flats. Across the social and private sectors, at least 19,000 flats (and possibly as many as 24,000 flats) are still clad in the unsafe ACM panels and materials similar to those used on Grenfell Tower.

Huge uncertainty

Some two and a half years after the Grenfell disaster, there are even 24 private sector residential buildings where the ‘cladding status’ is still to be confirmed although the Housing Ministry claims to have been in contact with all owners.

Funding has been agreed with the Government to help pay for the removal of ACM cladding from just four private sector blocks, from the £200million budget set aside for this work. It seems highly unlikely that the June deadline (set by Ministers) for completing the removal work will be met.

There also remains questions over the removal of other cladding panel materials – some of which were involved in fires during 2019 – and whether any funding will be made available to pay for other fire safety works, such as installing water sprinkler systems. Determining the liability for removal costs is proving to be a hugely contentious issue.

The G15 group of large housing associations based in and around London has estimated that the full cost of removing non-ACM cladding from its blocks in the capital could be as much as £6.9billion.

One of the G15, Network Homes has warned its 4,000 leaseholders they are “on notice” for bills of up to £100,000 each to pay for the removal of non-ACM cladding unless the Government steps in to help. The HA admitted the figure was at the “high end” of its estimations,

Also in the capital, Wandsworth Council has had a legal application to force all its 2,500 leaseholders in high-rise blocks to pay to fit sprinklers struck out by a tribunal. The council was seeking a ruling which would have allowed it to force leaseholders to pay between £3,000 and £4,000 to retrofit sprinkler systems in residential blocks of 10 storeys or more.

The tribunal found the council was not entitled to ask for a ‘blanket determination’ of leaseholder rights. It said that if the council wishes to fit the sprinkler systems then it must consider each block of flats individually and could make an application to the tribunal on a block-by-block basis at a later date.

By Patrick Mooney, Editor