On the one-year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower incident, have we made enough progress to ensure that our buildings and their residents are safe?
The Hackitt Review was recently published, following Dame Judith Hackitts independent review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, and I warmly welcome the recommendations within the report. Specifically, the appointment of an identifiable dutyholder, namely the building owner or superior landlord, responsible for the safety of high-rise buildings will be a great reassurance for residents. However, quite how this will work when a building is owned by multiple offshore firms, which makes identifying the owner difficult, remains to be seen.
Although accountability for safety will rightly remain with the dutyholder, they can delegate the responsibility to a building safety manager. In most cases, the day-to-day management of safety and engagement with residents rests with the managing agent.
In the scale of Government spending, the costs for safeguarding thousands of lives is microscopic. Surely it is the right thing for a Government to do?
Secondly, the Prime Minister has announced that the Government will fully fund the removal and replacement of dangerous cladding on all local authority and housing association tower blocks. Whilst heartily welcoming this shift in policy, it would only seem fair and reasonable to extend the programme into the private leasehold sector, where leaseholders are faced with bills of tens of thousands of pounds for new cladding.
ARMA has been lobbying Government to intervene since immediately after Grenfell. Our concern is that whilst lengthy and costly legal battles are being fought out, people are still living in potentially dangerous buildings. I believe that the Government should step in and take all properties into its own recladding programme. That way, economies of scale on costs can be achieved and buildings prioritised across all sectors and to make homes safe in the shortest possible time.
Why is ARMA asking the Government to fund privately-owned households?
Firstly, and most importantly, peoples safety is at risk all the time that the cladding is on those buildings. Safeguarding its citizens has to be one of the primary functions of any Government.
Also, delays are costly. For example, where fire wardens are walking the corridors, costs for each block are rising by an average of £11,000 per week.
Its not impossible that people start knocking on the door of their local council, demanding accommodation because their flats are worthless and they dont want their families to be at risk. To give an idea of the scale of rehousing the Government could face, ARMA members alone have over 5,000 flats in affected buildings.
Finally, there is the question of how these buildings passed building control in the first place; 300 buildings with failed cladding across the country would perhaps suggest a systemic failure of building control, rather than developers and builders knowingly using sub-standard materials.
The stress and anguish residents in these blocks are going through will be appalling. In the scale of Government spending, the costs for safeguarding thousands of lives is microscopic. Surely it is the right thing for a Government to do?
In the background all parties, whether building control, developer, constructor, designer, landlord or leaseholder, can fight over who is liable for the final bill. But lets just get people safe first.