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Mayor of London calls on landlords to speed-up cladding remediation work

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Sadiq Khan has lambasted tall building owners for "unacceptable" delays in making properties safe, after the government made cash available for remediation and promised the work would remain a priority despite the Covid-19 lockdown.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has this week written to 51 London landlords urging them make removing potentially dangerous flammable cladding from their buildings an urgent priority in the wake of the 2017 Grenfell disaster.

Khan said he had written to 47 private landlords and four social landlords who he said had received government funding to remove aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding – the material that contributed to the fatal fire at Grenfell Tower, in which 72 people lost their lives – from their buildings.

In March 2020, the government announced a £1 billion Building Safety Fund to support the remediation of cladding that is not ACM-based but is nevertheless deemed unsafe, on top of £600 million already allocated to remediate the highest-risk ACM cladding by June this year. However, when taking into account the sheer number of buildings that are deemed unsafe this figure is generally considered by building owners to be insufficient.

As of 31 May 2020, the government's Social Sector ACM Cladding Remediation Fund had approved £270 million of funding for the removal and replacement of unsafe ACM, according to figures published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

Its Private Sector ACM Cladding Remediation Fund has approved £33 million for the same purpose.

MHCLG's data shows there are more than 100 residential towers in London that still have ACM cladding, however, and the UK as a whole is estimated to have 1,700 buildings in need of remediation.

Khan has reportedly asked all 51 recipients of his letter to provide written updates of their progress on remediation works, adding that the delays in making the buildings safe were "unacceptable".

A towering problem

Despite government funding and assurances that dangerous cladding would be removed as a matter of urgency, and that work would not be delayed by the pandemic lockdown (see our previous article: Remediation of unsafe cladding to continue despite Covid-19) the Mayor of London's intervention suggests these efforts have not delivered the promised results.

On 12 June, a report by the Housing, Communities & Local Government Committee warned that the £1bn safety fund will only cover a third of the 1,700 buildings requiring remediation (see our previous article: Cladding remediation fund falls short of towering safety problem).

This issue was compounded by a tight application window for government funding (from 1 June-31 July 2020) and restrictions on social housing providers accessing the fund.

While public safety is by far the most pressing concern, many private residents of buildings with unsafe or untested cladding are suffering financially as a result of arguments over government funding and delays in checking and/or making buildings safe.

These residents are often having to pay hundreds of pounds a month for waking fire watches and face bills of tens of thousands of pounds for remedial work.

Owners of affected properties are also unable to sell or re-mortgage them, until the buildings are declared safe.

Industry bodies including the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) have attempted to tackle this impasse by rolling out a new industry-wide valuation process for buildings above 18 metres (six storeys) with untested cladding, known as the External Wall Fire Review. (see our previous article: High-rise buildings: Are they as safe as houses?).

To date, there has been little information on the success of this scheme, which was launched in December 2019, however criticism from residents' groups and politicians continues to mount over the sluggishness of progress in resolving the cladding nightmare.

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