The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is to provide an extra £3.5bn to fund the removal of dangerous cladding from buildings, more than three and a half years on from the Grenfell Tower fire.
A new package of measures announced by housing secretary Robert Jenrick will see unsafe cladding removed for free from the tallest blocks of flats, while a new scheme will be introduced to support leaseholders of flats in lower-rise blocks – those below 18m in height. It will pay for any necessary cladding removal with a “long-term, low interest, government-backed financing arrangement” that MHCLG said would never cost leaseholders more than £50 a month.
Jenrick said the latest measures meant £5bn had now been committed to building safety by the government. He said a new tax would be introduced for the UK residential property development sector that would raise “at least £2bn” to pay for cladding remediation costs over the course of a decade.
Jenrick added that a further levy would be introduced for developers seeking permission for “certain high-rise buildings in England”.
MHCLG’s post-Grenfell investigations have identified 461 high-rise buildings in England with aluminium-composite material cladding systems deemed “unlikely” to meet Building Regulations safety requirements. Of that figure, 213 were private-sector residential, 156 were social-sector residential and the remainder were made up of student accommodation, hotels and publicly-owned buildings.
MHCLG’s latest statistics say that as of last month remediation work had been completed on half of the structures, while ACM remained in place on 132 of the “high-rise” buildings. The data does not track progress with work on buildings below 18m in height.
The first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry said the unsafe ACM cladding recently added to the 1970s west London block was the principal reason fire spread so rapidly around the building in June 2017’s fire, which claimed 72 lives. The cladding had a highly flammable polyethylene core.
Jenrick said the government’s latest funding commitment was a “comprehensive plan” to remove unsafe cladding, support leaseholders, restore confidence to the housing market and ensure the issue of cladding safety never arose again.
“Our unprecedented intervention means the hundreds of thousands of leaseholders who live in higher-rise buildings will now pay nothing towards the cost of removing unsafe cladding,” he said.
“Remedying the failures of building safety cannot just be a responsibility for taxpayers. That is why we will also be introducing a levy and tax on developers to contribute to righting the wrongs of the past.
“These measures will provide certainty to residents and lenders, boosting the housing market, reinstating the value of properties and getting buying and selling homes back on track. We are working with lenders and surveyors to make this happen.”
MHCLG also said it was working with the property industry to reduce the need for external-wall fire review forms – the so-called EWS1, which it said would cut delays faced by leaseholders and “allow hundreds of thousands of homes” to be sold, bought, or re-mortgaged once again.
Shadow housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire said hundreds of thousands of people were still “trapped in unsafe homes” more than three years on from the Grenfell tragedy.
She said chancellor Rishi Sunak’s March 2020 pledge that “all unsafe combustible cladding will be removed from every private and social residential building above 18m high” had still not been made to happen and that 90% of previous funding commitments had yet to be paid out.
“At every stage, the government under-estimated the problem. Delays caused it to grow,” she said.
“The government still doesn’t know how many buildings are unsafe, where they are or what danger they pose.
“Until we have answers to these basic questions, the government will continue to make mistakes, offering piecemeal solutions that have to be updated when they don’t deliver.”
She added that leasholder loans and new levies showed ministers were not targeting businesses responsible for the original cladding-safety issues to make good on their shortcomings.
Conservative MP Stephen McPartland was also highly critical of the requirement for leasholders in lower-rise buildings to contribute to the cost of making their homes safe.
He said it represented “a betrayal of millions of leaseholders”.