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Grenfell-style aluminium composite material cladding

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 12th February 2020.

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Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour

How many Londoners are living in buildings with Grenfell-style aluminium composite material cladding that still needs remediating?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Since the tragedy at Grenfell, I have repeatedly called on the Government to fund cladding remediation. It took nearly a year for them to commit to providing funding for councils and housing associations and private sector leaseholders had to wait yet another year. These delays have placed Londoners at risk.

Of the 66 social sector blocks eligible for funding, five have claimed their completion payment. These five buildings include roughly 500 homes. A further 31 blocks with just over 2,000 homes are projected to complete by the end of June this year [2020]. Even in the social sector, where landlords have been proactive, remediation takes time.

Shamefully, though, private building owners have failed to act with this same urgency. The vast majority of the 58 London buildings eligible under the private sector fund are still yet to start remediation and only one has completed. Contained within these 57 buildings are approximately 4,000 individual homes.

The pace of remediation is dictated by the building owner, but my GLA Building Safety Team is working hard to try to speed up the process, including putting pressure on applicants and proposing to the Government ways to streamline the funding process. Whilst is unacceptable that Londoners are still living in buildings with unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, every building under the fund has interim safety measures in place. The bad news is that leaseholders are footing the bill for these interim safety measures because the fund does not cover them.

What is more, there are an unknown number of London tower blocks with other types of unsafe cladding. These blocks have no route to remediation and the recent fire in Bolton should be a stark warning to the Government. That is why just before Christmas the Homes for Londoners Board, which I chair, wrote to the Secretary of State [for Homes, Communities and Local Government] to urge him to widen the scope of the fund to include interim measures and other types of unsafe cladding.

Chair, I should say this. I want to thank Assembly Member Dismore for his continued scrutiny of building safety in London. Along with others across the sector, I will continue to call on the Government to wake up to the scale of this crisis.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour

Thank you for that. If the rate of remediation over the last six months continues, from figures published today it will take five years just for the social housing to be completed and nine years for the private sector tall buildings to be made safe.

What else could be done to speed this up? As you mentioned, what will be the consequences when testing confirms other types of cladding or installation apart from ACM are dangerous and that other less tall blocks of flats are shown to be at risk, bearing in mind the recent fires in low‑rise buildings both in London and elsewhere?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

That is a really important question. All we are talking about is ACM cladding. There are other forms of cladding that we know are combustible and are not being dealt with and we have not tested other forms of cladding on other buildings that could also have combustible materials in them. You are right to talk about the potential delay in these buildings being remediated.

There is a number of things we are doing. How can we make sure that the supply chain issues are dealt with? The Government has been told about these challenges: the complexity of designing the remediation works, the complexity of completing the remediation works, the difficulties in getting the right teams available to deal with these issues. We are talking with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) about streamlining the process. Also, the big challenge we have is to identify other types of unsafe cladding as well. That is one of the reasons why Homes for Londoners wrote to the Government just before Christmas to make sure it was aware of our concerns, by the way, which are replicated around the country as well.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour

The Government is refusing to provide detailed figures about buildings with cladding on the grounds that they claim that what they perceive as a ‘safety risk’ is not a real safety risk that people may unknowingly be living in unsafe homes

Should residents in potentially dangerous homes know about the risks rather than being kept in the dark by a Conservative Government that has dragged its feet, has failed to meet its own remediation targets and promises and thus has allowed the cladding scandal to drag on for two and a half years so far, leaving an unknown number of flat dwellers living in danger for years ahead? Do you think the Government’s concern over safety rings rather hollow in the light of this lack of transparency?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I am really concerned about the delay from the Government and the lacklustre response from the Government to this really important issue. One of the reasons why you now have teams who go to fires from the London Fire Brigade (LFB), who are not just dealing with putting the fire out but also evacuation, is the concern about whether a building is safe and whether the stay‑put advice can be used.

I do have some sympathy with the Government’s approach though because what they do not want to do is to spread panic and alarm and what they do not want to do is to cause a situation where people have behavioural changes that could put their lives at risk and also others in their buildings. I understand their concerns. I am hoping it has been done for the right reasons rather than the reasons you are alluding to.

We will continue to talk to the Government see if we can provide more information so that there is more knowledge. The reassurance that we know exists is that there are interim measures in place in some of these buildings to make sure that they are as safe as they can be in the absence of remediation of the ACM cladding.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour

The GLA now states that it cannot provide me with updates on the cladding remediation fund, which is administered by City Hall on behalf of the Government, because of a memorandum of understanding between the GLA and MHCLG. This means we cannot know which building owners are in receipt of public money and how much is being paid out.

Do you think this is Government secrecy being obstructive, unnecessary and unfair to both the taxpayer and to residents potentially at risk?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

One of the things that we can explore is, notwithstanding the conditions upon which the Government made the agreement with us to administer the fund for it, whether there is some way of Assembly Members being made aware, subject to some suitable undertakings. What I suggest we do is carry on talking about whether we can persuade the Government to do that.

I say this, giving the Government the benefit of the doubt. I understand its nervousness about making public this information. We are going to carry on talking to the Government and talking to you about how we can let at least Assembly Members know whether there are issues that affect their constituents. We will carry on talking to the Government to see if we can persuade it to do that.