The Government’s track record on cladding removal from privately owned blocks has been compared to its action on potholes.
Labour’s Rushanara Ali drew the comparison during a Commons debate in which MHCLG was urged to create a new national funding scheme to cover the cost of cladding removal.
“I hope that we are about to hear an action plan about these important issues—making money available now, setting a timetable and making freeholders pay,” said Ali.
“In last year’s Budget, the Chancellor made £420m of extra funding available to fix potholes, the issue that we are debating is a matter of life and death for thousands of people up and down the country – urgent action is required,” she said.
The House heard that new national funding for cladding removal – administered by either national or local government – could see further works start “straight away”.
But that funding, said Ali, must be additional, given the crisis in local government finance.
She pushed Malthouse on the possibility of deadlines along a clear timeline to remove all dangerous cladding and the amendment of existing legislation to force freeholders to pay for repairs.
Defending the Government’s record, Malthouse referenced the growing number of owners and developers ready to remove dangerous cladding from privately owned blocks – listing the likes of Barratt Developments, Mace Group, Legal & General, Peabody, Aberdeen Asset Management, Frasers Property and the building owners at Manchester’s Green Quarter amongst the latest to commit.
Malthouse maintained that “owing to our continued pressure (and) following the Secretary of State writing to all building owners” there was a growing list of owners and developers agreeing to fund remediation – with leaseholders currently protected from remediation costs in 83 out of 176 residential buildings.
But he conceded to concern that some leaseholders were still to be protected.
On this, he “assured” the House that work would continue to press owners and developers of all high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding to protect leaseholders from paying.
“Further to that, we have been engaged across Government to consider additional interventions, so that progress can be made more swiftly,” he said.
Facing questions over advice to leaseholders, Malthouse referenced Government funding to the Leasehold Advisory Service.
Addressing pace, Malthouse said MHCLG was working “with all relevant parties”, including councils and building owners, to ensure remediation happens without unnecessary delay.
“Remediation does take time and it is important to get it right. The time to complete work varies considerably depending on factors such as structure, extent of cladding and existing fire safety systems,” said Malthouse.
“For many buildings, this is a complex job involving major construction work. I am aware that the removal of cladding in a number of buildings has revealed other defects and issues that have complicated matters and needed rectification,” he said.
To Ali this was “unacceptably slow progress” betraying promises of swift action, when, post Grenfell, 345 high-rise buildings with ACM panels are yet to be made safe – 226 in private hands.
She challenged Malthouse – and other MPs – to attend a meeting of the UK Cladding Action Group planned for May 8.
“In January, (Malthouse) said that he could guarantee that people in high-rise flats with ACM cladding were safe to sleep at night, but thousands living in flats in high-rise buildings, encased in cladding that could spread fire with rapacious speed, do not feel safe and there is no good night’s sleep,” said Ali.
“The sleepless nights will continue until Ministers get a grip and move fast to take down the cladding,” she said.