New ‘task force’ to lead on high rise safety

LGA and National Fire Chiefs Council will help councils remediate cladding issues identified in private sector residential blocks.

A new government task force is to lead on the tackling the cladding risk to high-rise blocks in the private sector.

Communities secretary James Brokenshire told the Commons the task force would oversee remediation plans put in place “swiftly” across all private sector buildings with ACM cladding systems – addressing any barriers or identifying any additional support required to achieve this.

Membership of this taskforce will include Local Government Association (LGA), National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), London Councils, local authorities who have experienced the largest degree of impact and industry representatives.

“We are confident that, through this testing and the hard work of local authorities, we have identified all social housing with unsafe ACM cladding systems in England.

“However, beyond the 297 confirmed private sector buildings, the cladding status of approximately 170 private sector residential buildings remains outstanding,” Brokenshire said.

Also confirmed is a joint LGA and National Fire Chief Council ((NFCC) expert inspection team to help councils on the ground – with up to £1m available as back up.

MHCLG is also developing further statutory guidance for councils to enhance their use of existing Housing Act powers in relation to fire safety hazards associated with cladding on high-rise residential buildings.

LGA chairman Lord Porter said it was “alarming” that some private landlords continue to lack the urgency shown by councils to identify which buildings have cladding and insulation systems that have failed fire safety tests and take steps to make them safe.:

“Councils have worked hard to try and confirm with building owners whether they have dangerous cladding on their high-rise residential buildings, this has been a major and complex piece of work.

“We look forward to working with the Government, councils and fire chiefs as part of this new task force to do all we can to make certain the buildings which people live, visit and work in are safe today”, he said.

In the private sector, councils are checking actions being taken to remediate buildings with plans in place for 72% of the buildings identified to date.

Of these, 21 have started remediation, and 4 of these have been completed.

Remediation work has also started on 70% of the social sector buildings.

Government will fully fund the removal and replacement of unsafe ACM cladding systems on residential social housing buildings 18 metres and above owned by social landlords, with costs estimated at £400 million.

Latest building safety data shows 314 buildings identified as having unsafe cladding. Of these, 159 are social housing, 14 are public buildings, and 141 are private residential buildings.

Previous communities secretary Sajid Javid wrote to councils last summer asking them to identify all privately-owned high-rise buildings with potentially unsafe cladding – with £1.3m pitched in to help this process.

As part of this work, councils have been collecting information on ACM buildings in their areas which have not been tested at BRE.

This work has so far seen over 6,000 high-rise private sector buildings assessed and an additional 156 private sector high-rise residential blocks with unsafe cladding.

Adding these to the 141 already identified by BRE testing brings the total to 297 private sector high-rise residential buildings identified as having ACM cladding unlikely to meet current Building Regulations guidance.

Brokenshire told the Commons of “confidence” that all social housing with unsafe ACM cladding systems in England had been identified.

However, beyond the 297 confirmed private sector buildings, the cladding status of approximately 170 private sector residential buildings remains outstanding.

For all but a handful of these buildings, councils have commenced enforcement action to obtain the necessary information from owners who are responsible for ensuring safety, Brokenshire said.

Based on current evidence, and the identification rate to date, 3-5% of the remaining buildings have ACM cladding systems similar to those which failed large-scale system tests.

Address details for these buildings have been passed to respective fire and rescue services.

As reported by 24housing, housing minister Dominic Raab is up before the HCLG committee next week to be quizzed on the government’s response to the Hackitt review.

There, Raab can also expect questions on the consultation over banning combustible cladding on high-rise buildings and fire safety testing regimes.

This week, the committee confirmed it was to “urgently raise” safety concerns with the government after hearing suggestions that some buildings have been left in an unsafe condition following the removal of combustible cladding.

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