As of yesterday, $250 Million is available to private owners of tower blocks in the U.K. to replace cladding at risk of catching fire. The government fund is for towers that use the aluminum composite material (ACM) cladding—the same facade material employed by the Grenfell tower which caught fire in June 2017, claiming the lives of 72 people.
Those who do not use the money will reportedly be “named and shamed” according to Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) in a statement released to the press. “Government funds are available for private building owners to remove and replace unsafe ACM cladding, and let me be clear, inaction will have consequences and I will name and shame those who do not act during the course of the autumn.”
“There is no excuse for further delay—and for building owners to fail to take action now would be frankly disgraceful.”
A national safety review of tower blocks was issued in the wake of the Grenfell fire in 2017. In May 2018, the government pledged $532 Million for state-owned blocks to remove any cladding deemed potentially dangerous. Private owners, meanwhile, were encouraged not to pass on the recladding costs to occupants. That, however, did not happen, and the most notable example occurred in Croydon, South London, where multimillionaire owner Vincent Tchenguiz refused to pay the $665,000 re-cladding fee. A tribunal following the debacle ruled that leaseholders should stump up the fee, leading to a deadlock between landlords and tenants. As a result, some had to start 24-hour patrols of their buildings to monitor for any fires while other homes have become unsellable.
The government estimates that 170 privately-owned blocks currently use ACM cladding. In addition to the aforementioned funds, a further $5 million has been issued to collect data on cladding used for state-owned buildings.
Motions to facilitate action to reduce fire risk due to ACM cladding have been slow in coming. Since the fire in 2017—24 months ago—there have been three different Secretaries of the HCLG, and four Ministers of State for Housing amid multiple cabinet shake-ups in the wake of Brexit.
In his statement, incumbent Secretary of State Jenrick also unveiled a new Protection Board which has been set up by the Home Office with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) to give assurance to those in tower blocks listed as high-risk that fire risks will be identified and acted upon. The board will have access to $12.5 Million each year until 2021.
“The new Protection Board will make sure building owners don’t flout the rules, as well as ensuring fire safety risks in other buildings are being addressed,” said Jenrick.
In addition to investigating cladding, a commission has been set up to review when sprinklers are to be employed. Currently, sprinklers have to be used for buildings taller than 98 feet or roughly ten stories, but ministers are considering lowering this to 60 feet — roughly six stories. As reported by the Architects’ Journal, this was a measure the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) called for, however, RIBA wanted all residential buildings above 60 feet to have sprinklers added to them. England lags behind its neighbors in this regard. In Wales, sprinklers are mandatory in all new residential buildings and in Scotland, the same applies to care homes, sheltered housing and schools above 60 feet.
The current commission’s review only covers housing blocks built since 2007. Grenfell Tower was completed in 1974 and did not have sprinklers added to it when it was refurbished in 2016 at the cost of $10.85 Million. According to the BBC, 96 percent of state-owned tower blocks above 98 feet (32 out of 837) do not have a sprinkler system installed.