Jenrick to tackle ’deeply concerning’ slowdown in work to strip towers of flammable cladding
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has joined with city mayors to make a pledge to carry out work to replace dangerous cladding on tower blocks following a “significant slowdown” in activity due to the coronavirus lockdown.
Jenrick has signed a pledge alongside the mayors of London, Sheffield, the West Midlands and Manchester to “continue to do all we can […] to ensure that ensure necessary building safety improvements can continue”.
The government has said since lockdown was announced that construction sites should remain open where social distancing can be ensured, and specifically that work to remediate blocks with unsafe cladding is considered “critical to public safety” and should continue.
However, around three quarters of new-build housebuilding sites are shut, and there have also been examples of individual cladding remediation schemes to existing buildings where worked has stopped.
Jenrick said he was “deeply concerned that vital building safety work has significantly slowed down as a result of the pandemic”, though the department did not offer any statistics to support the suggestion this was a widespread problem.
He added: “I have been clear that work must resume to ensure the safety of residents living in buildings with unsafe cladding or with insufficient fire safety measures, and it is entirely possible for this work to be done safely within health guidelines.
“I brought together mayors and local leaders to find a solution. The agreement that I have reached with them will ensure those working on these vital repair projects can continue to do so safely.”
Following the lockdown announcement last month, repair work stopped on a fire-hit block of flats designed by Sheppard Robson in east London, prompting local MP Margaret Hodge to urge Jenrick to intervene.
And housebuilder Galliard Homes said it had stopped remediation work on the New Capital Quay scheme i2n London. The managing agent of the block, PMM, said at the time that it had made the decision “Further to the prime minister’s announcement of new measures yesterday evening” and that it was being done to “safeguard the health of those that reside at the scheme along with those that work on the project.”
However, despite Jenrick’s comments, the government has been clear that re-cladding work should only continue “if the necessary safety precautions are being followed, including 2-metre social distancing rules.”
The pledge says: “We hope those leading the remediation work can continue where it is safe to do so and that residents feel able to co-operate with any reasonable conditions that may be required for them to be safe.”
The government has pledged £600m to help pay to the recladding of public and private tower blocks with Grenfell-style ACM cladding, and a further £1bn in the March budget to pay for the recladding of non-ACM flammable cladding systems.
In figures released last week, the government revealed that just 144 high-rise tower blocks, less than a third of the 457 found to have flammable ACM cladding, have had the cladding removed, nearly three years on from the tragedy at Grenfell.
The figures showed that just 18 private sector tower blocks had had government funding approved to go ahead with remediation work, despite more than 180 blocks standing unchanged.