Survivors and bereaved family members from the Grenfell Tower fire have joined forces with residents trapped in allegedly dangerous flats in a new national campaign calling on government to lead an “urgent national effort” to solve the cladding crisis.
Six months after the government announced funds to remove dangerous cladding, the groups say the current effort is failing and 700,000 people are being left in dangerous conditions with no end in sight.
Up to 3.6m people face waiting as long as a decade to sell almost any modern flat because they cannot prove their walls are safe.
Around the country about 20,000 high-rise flats still have the same cladding as on Grenfell Tower.
An estimated 186,000 flats in at least 2,957 tall developments are wrapped in other types of flammable materials, according to registrations for a £1 billion government building safety fund obtained by The Sunday Times.
The figures exclude hundreds of thousands of medium-rise flats - below 18 metres - that are also thought to be affected.
The groups’ demands include for the government to lead an urgent national effort to remove all dangerous cladding from buildings by June 2022 and for funding to be provided up front to all blocks, including social housing blocks.
It is an approach modelled on steps being taken in several Australian states, where the government would put up the money to fix buildings, but then take on the power to pursue those responsible through the courts and levy new development to recoup its costs.
In the absence of government funding, costs for remediation often fall on leaseholders – with sums reaching above £100,000 per flat in the worst cases.
Leaseholders are also required to fund 24-hour fire patrols and other interim measures, at costs of up to £800 per month each, until their blocks are made safe.
The campaigners say that around the country up to 1.5m modern flats are unsellable – even in three-storey blocks – because they cannot demonstrate the safety of their cladding, insulation, balconies and wall structure, a necessary requirement of gaining a mortgage thanks to government guidance.
Michael Mansfield QC, representing a collective of lawyers working for Grenfell Tower families, says: ‘There are many more Grenfell fires waiting to happen. Thousands of citizens are at risk. After three years it is a disgrace that this risk has not been eradicated by the removal of all combustible cladding. With the advent of more lockdown, the message is clear and urgent - CLADOFF!”
The 10 aims of the campaign are:
1. The government must lead an urgent national effort to remove all dangerous cladding from buildings by June 2022, actively prioritising the buildings most at risk;
2. The Building Safety Fund must cover all buildings, regardless of height, and a range of internal and external fire safety defects not just cladding;
3. The government should provide the money up front, and then seek to recover it from any responsible parties or via a temporary levy on development;
4. Social housing providers must have full and equal access to the fund;
5. The government must compel building owners or managers to be honest with residents about fire safety defects;
6. The government should cover the cost of interim safety measures;
7. The government should act as an insurer of last resort and underwrite insurance where premiums have soared;
8. A fairer, faster process is needed to replace EWS and funding is necessary to ensure all buildings requiring a form are surveyed within 12 months;
9. Mental health support must be offered to affected residents;
10. Protecting residents from historic and future costs must be a key commitment of new building safety legislation.