Jane Duncan critical of ‘extremely slow’ response to ongoing risks

Grenfell shutterstock_1116845372

Former RIBA president Jane Duncan has attacked the government’s announcement that it is to spend £200m removing unsafe ACM cladding from private residential towers.

She criticised the government for its “extremely slow” response to the Grenfell fire in June 2017.

Duncan, who is chair of the RIBA’s Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety, said: “It is of great concern that nearly two years on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy there are still many hundreds of buildings with cladding systems that have been identified as a risk to public safety.

“While we support the cladding fund announcement, many people have faced real stress and financial hardship because of a past failure in regulation. Government action is happening, but regrettably it has been extremely slow.

“We are yet to see regulatory change on other issues that might help prevent fire tragedies in the future. We want to see the government introduce improved regulation on the provision of sprinklers and alternative means of escape in residential buildings. We must ensure that the public is protected.”

Housing secretary James Brokenshire announced this week that it would spend £200m to fund the removal of unsafe aluminium composite cladding (ACM) on private-sector residential tower blocks.

Ministers have been under pressure to get a grip on the removal programme in the wake of the Grenfell fire after it emerged that around 170 high-rise towers in the private sector still had dangerous material present, versus only 23 in the public sector.

Brokenshire said he was “calling time on reckless building owners who have refused to take action”.

Private developers and freeholders had been “too slow to act” and leaseholders had been “threatened with significant, often unaffordable, costs resulting in delays”.

As a condition of the funding the government will demand building owners “take reasonable steps to recover the costs from those responsible for the presence of the unsafe cladding”.

Earlier this month Labour MP Rushanara Ali accused the government of not taking tough action against owners of residential towers fitted with unsafe ACM cladding.

Ali, the MP for Bethnal Green & Bow in east London, said while the government was working to safeguard social-sector buildings it was doing little to reassure those living in more than 200 privately owned high-rise residential towers fitted with unsafe ACM cladding.

Building owners will have three months to access the funding, and the government said it would “look carefully at those who fail to remediate and consider what further action can be taken”.

Prime minister Theresa May said it was of “paramount importance” that residents were able to feel and be safe in their homes.

“That’s why we asked building owners in the private sector to take action and make sure appropriate safety measures were in place.

“And we’ve seen a number of private building owners doing the right thing and taking responsibility, but unfortunately too many are continuing to pass on the costs of removal and replacement to leaseholders.

“I can confirm we will now be fully funding the replacement of cladding on high-rise private residential buildings so residents can feel confident they are secure in their homes.”