This week began with an open invitation made directly to government from residents, property managers and buildings owners to get around the table and fix the cladding crisis. Instead of answering this call, the Government chose to deflect.
The Government’s decision to name and shame building owners who are supposedly not doing enough to remediate buildings was based on a flawed understanding of the situation on the ground. In the case of our building it was simply inaccurate – on the building in question, there is an open application to the Government’s own ACM fund which was first lodged four months ago. But one thing this exercise has revealed is the wider contradictions in government policy.
Remediation work is complex, and the associated costs are significant. The time and costs to remediate all buildings with Grenfell style ACM cladding, let alone other unsafe material, is still unknown. The latest estimates put the figure well into the billions.
As a professional freeholder, with over 180,000 units throughout the UK, we have an intricate understanding of the complexities of the remediation process. Where remedial work has been completed more quickly and saved residents from suffering costs, it has often been because a responsible and professional freeholder has applied the necessary pressure and resolve to find a solution.
In fact, we need look no further than the example we were named for to illustrate this. As well as instructing and overseeing a fund application for the ACM remediation on behalf of the residents in the block, the freeholder has stepped in and funded safety measures to the tune of nearly £800k. In the meantime, we are using our considerable expertise and experience to pursue other avenues with third parties to fund the remediation work which isn’t covered by the government’s fund.
Fixing these buildings is nearly always a complex and resource intensive process, but we do not shy away from our responsibilities on this issue. This is exactly what professional freeholders are there to do. Having one single entity (i.e. a freeholder) coordinating these projects is incredibly quick and effective, further it is often the only way to bring successful claims against responsible third parties.
When it comes to our wider portfolio, the irony is that we have been working very closely with Government officials, updating progress on our buildings with our building safety experts and working through solutions together. An important feature of this collaborative approach has been our ability to identify the parties responsible for rectifying these buildings and bringing them to the table. Naturally, we fully intend to continue with this collaboration and information sharing irrespective of public relations exercises like the naming and shaming announcement earlier this week.
PR stunts aside, the real issue at the heart of this crisis is how we can help those affected. The Association of Residential Managing Agents’ analysis, published earlier this week, found that over half a million people may be living in unsafe buildings that passed building control when they were built. Materials now deemed to be unsafe include High Pressure Laminate (HPL) – which has been found to be at least as flammable as the ACM cladding that was used on Grenfell Tower – but the Government’s existing fund is limited to ACM cladding.
Everyone shares the Government’s desire to improve building safety standards and address those issues in existing buildings caused by, amongst other things, deficient building control and regulation. But this is clearly a systemic failure in building regulations dating back decades and involving governments of all colours. It requires a government-led solution.
That is why we, along with resident groups and campaigners, signed a letter to the Chancellor this week urging him broaden the scope of the fund to address the cladding crisis. This new government now has a golden opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and rescue the hundreds of thousands of worried and vulnerable residents across the country.
The Government should take this opportunity to work with building owners.
Richard Silva is Executive Director at Long Harbour