‘Evidence’ will guide any extension of £600m ACM remediation fund

Commons hears case for fund also covering HPL and other forms of cladding.

Grenfell Tower green banner with a heart

The £600m ACM remediation fund will be “guided by the evidence” ahead of any extension, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has said.

In the Commons, Labour’s Hilary Benn asked whether it would be “sensible” for government to extend the fund to cover high-pressure laminate (HPL) or other forms of external cladding.

Jenrick said there would be no shift from ACM, which had been identified by the government’s ‘expert advisers’ as the most urgent challenge.

“We must be guided by the evidence,” said Jenrick, referencing the results due from the Building Research Establishment and its testing of other cladding materials including HPL.

“I will publish the information shortly, and will say more at that time,” he said.

Benn has tabled an Early Day Motion urging the House to “note with concern” the  number of people living in blocks with ACM and HPL cladding either identified as unsafe or still to be inspected.

In a written Commons question, Benn quizzed Housing Minister Esther McVey on MHCLG financial support for owners of HPL-clad housing blocks to enable its removal.

Where government intervention does not remove responsibility for overall building safety from the building owner, McVey referenced related advice to building owners on the consideration of all routes to meet costs.

Government intervention to provide funding for the removal and replacement of unsafe ACM cladding is based on the “unparalleled” fire risk ACM poses, she said.

Benn then asked after assistance to leaseholders unable to sell their properties as a result of uncertainty over the content of the cladding.

McVey said lenders are lending on flats in high-rise buildings.

“But obtaining the necessary paperwork to support a decision can take time.

“Valuers can now refer to the form produced by the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) to manage valuations and lending on high-rise residential buildings,” she said.

Cladding was pitched into the election, with Grenfell campaigners warning of further deaths unless is accelerated to make tower blocks safe.

That intervention came as government confirmed a ‘protection board’ to purportedly keep towers safe until remediation work is carried out.

Recent fires have raised concerns that the extent of the UK’s fire-safety problem has not been properly grasped by government and extends well beyond the 436 residential blocks over 18 metres known to have been wrapped in Grenfell-style aluminium composite cladding.

Official stats show that effectively nothing has been done to remove Grenfell-style aluminium composite cladding on at least 189 high-rise blocks of flats, student halls, and hotels.

The government will not know how many high-rises are wrapped in HPL until March this year.

MHCLG continues to maintain resident safety is the “utmost” priority, and cites the ban on combustible materials on the external walls of new high-rise homes, the testing of a number of non-ACM materials, and the £600m to fund to remediate of unsafe ACM cladding.

Meantime, the newly established ‘protection board’ has taken responsibility for the safety of all 318 buildings around the UK that still have dangerous ACM cladding installed.

The board is chaired by the National Fire Chiefs Council and has representatives from MHCLG, the Home Office, Local Government, and the Local Government Association; and has the power to “provide expert, tailored building checks and inspections” to the affected towers.

It had previously been piloted for 10 buildings before expanding to all 318 and will expand to all ‘high risk’ residential buildings around the UK “if necessary” by 2021.

The government also plans to introduce a new Building Safety Bill and a Fire Safety Bill to purportedly strengthen related regulation.

As reported by 24housing, a mailbox set up by MHCLG post Grenfell to report fire-safety fears has so far received over 9,000 e-mails.

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