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Dangerous Cladding Affects 300 Tower Blocks

Thursday, July 5, 2018

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More than a year after the Grenfell Tower fire claimed more than 70 lives, the U.K. government has disclosed that nearly 300 private tower blocks in the country have Grenfell-style cladding, twice the number previously believed.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government revealed there are 297 blocks clad in the unsafe materials. The previous estimate totaled 138.

Cladding Replacement

In mid-May, Prime Minister Theresa May pledged that the government would fund the replacement of dangerous cladding on all social high-rises, a project that was projected to cost about 400 million pounds. At the time, the PM’s spokesperson said that replacement work was needed on 158 high-rise blocks (defined as 18 meters or higher) and it had begun work on 104 of them.

Even though the move was welcomed by many, some are wondering why it took nearly a year for the government to formally commit; others are worried about the numerous privately owned blocks that will not receive any funding.

In the months immediately following the fire, the government backed extensive testing on a variety of cladding systems: four out of seven system combinations failed.

Subcontractors Under Fire

In mid-June, public inquiry hearings began, following opening statements and fact-checking. Early in the process, the inquiry focused on the subcontractors responsible for the tower’s recent refurbishment, most of whom have refused to give statements to the council. The cladding installed during the updating project took the brunt of the blame for the fierce and quick spread of the fire.

Studio E Architects, along with facade manufacturer CEP and installer Harley, did not provide opening statements, drawing harsh criticism from lawyers representing survivors and the bereaved.

The general contractor on the refurbishment, Rydon, did submit to the inquiry. In its statement, it didn’t address whether or not it agreed with allegations that the work breached regulations, and claimed that it ultimately was not responsible for the cladding choices. The subcontractors who didn’t comment are waiting until they have full disclosure of documents, according to the inquiry.

Cladding Still Standing

In late June, housing secretary James Brokenshire announced a new task force that would ensure the tower blocks still equipped with detrimental cladding would be made safe quickly. Yet, in a written statement, Brokenshire admitted cladding had only been removed from 19 tower blocks, with work only completed on four of the 297 private buildings.

The housing secretary went on to note that 6,000 buildings had been tested, and that 1 million pounds would be used to launch an expert inspection team to ensure that building owners would take the necessary action.

The government has promised to fund the removal of cladding for social housing blocks, but has made no such commitment for the private housing sector, leaving funding options for the latter unclear, with some building owners passing along the cost to residents.

“I have been clear that leaseholders should be protected from unfair costs and we expect the industry to do the right thing,” Brokenshire said. “If they don’t, I will continue to explore other routes and I am not ruling anything out.”


Tagged categories: Cladding; Condominiums/High-Rise Residential; Enforcement; Fire; Health and safety

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