“Shocking… horrifying… slow”: the Government’s response to removing flammable cladding post-Grenfell

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 29th July 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour

In a recent interview with the Evening Standard, London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton described the Government’s action on building fire safety since the Grenfell Tower fire as “shocking… horrifying… slow” (Evening Standard, 4 July 2019) and warned that Londoners are at risk because of aluminium composite material on high rise blocks. LFC Cotton continued: “I don’t think anyone in government has responded in a satisfactory manner. We need more to be done. We need for it to be taken seriously.” Do you agree with her appraisal?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I fully agree with London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton [QFSM] that the Government has failed to do anywhere near enough on building fire safety since the fire at Grenfell Tower. Today, the cross-party Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee published a damning report, which agrees that the Government has been - and I quote - “far too slow to react” to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

After the devastating fire in June 2017, the Government promised urgent action to make everyone safe. More than two years later, our building regulation system is still unfit for purpose, we still lack clarity on the basic questions of whether certain types of cladding are safe, and tens of thousands of people continue to live in homes that may be unsafe, with leaseholders facing huge bills for interim safety measures and other safety works.

At every turn, the Government’s attempts to improve the system of building regulations have been far too slow and limited. For instance, an introduced ban on combustible materials applied only to buildings over 18 metres high. The recent fire in Barking was in a building less than this. Similarly, the proposed reforms to the building safety regulatory regime apply only to high-rise buildings rather than the wholesale reform of the system that is needed.

As well as the failure to make regulations for new buildings fit for purpose, the Government’s efforts have also been slow and inadequate in ensuring existing buildings are made safe. It is shocking that it took nearly two years for the Government to agree funding for the remediation of the unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding in private-sector residential buildings over 18 metres. What is more, the scope of this funding for private-sector blocks and its equivalent for the social sector is far too limited. By covering only ACM cladding in high-rise blocks, the funding ignores fire safety issues involving other buildings and different sorts of materials.

On behalf of thousands of Londoners living in blocks that may be unsafe, I will keep pushing the next Prime Minister to step up and show the leadership we need.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour

Thank you for that comprehensive reply. On Monday I met with residents from the Paddington Walk development, which was built in 2005. The private-sector leaseholders have been told that they will each have to find between £40,000 and £60,000 to remove ACM cladding on their four blocks, a total of £9 million, having already had to fork out £1 million between them for fire alarms and waking-watch patrols.

Resident Julie Long is typical. She has paid £20,000 and has to pay another £20,000 on top. I have a copy of the bill sent to her here. Another leaseholder, who is a teacher, faces bills of £40,000. There may also be additional charges not yet costed to remove timber cladding as well as ACM.

Even though the Government has said it will fund private block remediation, the managing agents are still insisting on residents coughing up these huge sums, backed by threats of lease forfeiture, losing their homes; nor will the agents guarantee to repay the money if the funding bid to the Government is successful, only offering credits to their accounts. Altogether, it looks like they are asking for about 5% of the total fund just for this one development alone.

Does this illustrate the complete failure of the Government to get to grips with the demands on private homeowners, too little too late, and will you write to the Housing Minister asking him to intervene on these residents’ behalf?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I will. If the Assembly Member, Chair, wants to send me the details, I will send representations again to the Government in relation to this issue.

Many of these properties are now unable to be mortgaged for the reasons you have alluded to. Also, many leaseholders simply cannot afford to pay the massive bills they are being sent by their managing agents. One of the reasons we are lobbying the Government to assist in the private sector is because of this argument between the landowner, the managing agent and the leaseholder. We need to continue to persuade the Government to lobby and tell the managing agents that they cannot do this.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour

Thanks for that as well. After the Lakanal House fire ten years ago, which killed six people and injured many more, then-Mayor Boris Johnson said:

“Is there anything we should be doing to ensure that we do not have a repeat of such tragic blazes? Safety has to be paramount and we will certainly be looking at this to see if there are any lessons that can be drawn.”

Would you think that those lessons apparently included cutting ten fire stations, 14 fire engines and 553 firefighter posts from the London Fire Brigade (LFB), together with ignoring the recommendations of the Coroner, for example, on sprinklers? Should he become Prime Minister, what prospects are there even now for holding Boris Johnson to his words and getting him to reverse the failing record of this Government’s proposed Grenfell delayed reaction and actually doing something to make safe the 10,600 private and 4,600 social‑sector homes still with dangerous cladding in London alone?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Chair, can I say how disappointing it is that some Members are tutting while Assembly Member Dismore is reading out serious concerns raised by a Coroner at an inquest in relation to a fire that led to tragedy in south London?

The important point is to hope that the next Prime Minister does not let down the victims of fires in tower blocks. The current Prime Minister has let down the Grenfell Tower community. For her to use Grenfell Tower in her final resignation speech beggars belief.  I hope the next Prime Minister will learn from his experiences as Mayor and also learn from mistakes made by Prime Minister Theresa May [MP] and address concerns around fire safety. These are serious issues that do not deserve the tutting we have just heard.