Private Tower Blocks: Removal of Cladding

Part of Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee) – in the House of Commons at 7:52 pm on 29th April 2019.

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Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 7:52 pm, 29th April 2019

As I have explained on numerous occasions, my primary concern, while waiting for the work to be undertaken, is to make sure that interim measures are in place in every affected building, so that people can be reassured that they are safe this evening and until that work is done. It is obviously the responsibility of building owners to make sure that their buildings are safe, but local fire and rescue services have been working closely alongside local authorities to make sure that that certification is in place. I have asked for a review, I guess to satisfy myself that the measures taken over the last few months—whether waking watch or others—are still in place and are still assiduously adhered to.

I met someone recently who outlined that one measure that has been very reassuring for her has been the heat detectors in the rubbish chutes—often flashpoints for the start of fires—that alert the building control system that a fire may well be starting. We want to reassure ourselves that, across those buildings that have not yet been remediated, those interim measures are in place, to reassure people for the moment, while we wait for remediation. I acknowledge that this is not an ideal situation. We want to get the remediation done as quickly as possible.

However, whatever solution is found for these buildings, we have to recognise that these are often complex and difficult construction jobs involving enormous amounts of scaffolding, the procurement of alternative methods of cladding and finding the workforce and contractors to do the work. All of that may well necessarily take some time. However, as I said, local authorities have the power to enforce these improvements, and we have included a package of financial support where it is necessary and local authorities feel the need to step in. We intend to recover those costs from building owners if that is the case.

We established a joint inspection team to provide support to local authorities in ensuring, and where necessary, enforcing that remediation. We have strengthened the housing health and safety rating system and its operating guidance to provide specific guidance on the assessment of high-rise residential buildings with unsafe cladding. That should help local authorities to take action.

The Secretary of State and I also regularly chair a remediation taskforce to oversee progress. I take this opportunity to remind the House of the strong progress we have made in social sector remediation. The Government made £400 million available to social sector landlords to fund the remediation of unsafe aluminium composite material cladding on residential social housing buildings taller than 18 metres. We have so far allocated £259 million, and we are still accepting applications. Remediation has started or been completed in 85% of social sector buildings, and there are plans and commitments in place to remediate all remaining buildings.

I would also like to tell hon. Members about the work we are doing following the Hackitt review. Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, we asked Dame Judith Hackitt to carry out an independent review of building regulations and fire safety. Dame Judith’s review found that the system was not fit for purpose. The review made 53 recommendations to establish a new regulatory framework and achieve a culture change to build and maintain safe buildings. The Government accepted the diagnosis of the independent review and published our implementation plan last December, which set out how we intend to take forward the review’s recommendations.

We committed in the implementation plan to consult on our proposals for a fundamental reform of the building safety system this spring, and we will publish our proposals shortly. Our aim is to put residents at the heart of a more effective system, with clear and more demanding accountability and responsibility for those who design, construct and manage buildings, alongside effective penalties for those who flout the system. We have not waited for legislation to begin to reform the system; we have already made progress. This includes launching consultations to make sure that standards and guidance are clear, banning combustible cladding on new buildings taller than 18 metres and further restricting desktop studies. We are also launching calls for evidence around approved document B and the role that residents can play in keeping buildings safe. Much of the work to reform the building safety system will require primary legislation, which we have committed to introducing at the earliest opportunity.

We are also making sure that change begins on the ground as soon as possible through our joint regulators group, which is helping us to develop and pilot new approaches and to transition to a new, safer system. An industry early adopters group is trialling aspects of the proposed new regulatory framework in advance of legislation. Industry must also drive culture change by adopting a safety-first mindset and taking greater responsibility for building safety, and we will champion those that do the right thing.

The Grenfell Tower fire represents the greatest loss of life in a residential fire in a century. We must rebuild public trust in the system in tribute to those who lost their lives, the bereaved and the survivors.