What Are the Political Parties Saying About Cladding?
Two-and-a-half years on from Grenfell, the deaths of 72 people, we find our country in the middle of a general election with politicians that are reluctant to talk about fire safety and the cladding crisis. The G15, one of the largest housing associations in Greater London, has estimated the total cost of making buildings fire-safe could reach £6.9bn. So, we’re going to review where the country is currently on cladding, law and the state of the Fire and Rescue Service as well as, most importantly what the three main parties’ manifestos are saying.
Bishop David Walker and Bishop Graham Tomlin, writing for Inside Housing said:
“A political party that gave a commitment to addressing this issue seriously would make a move that is not only courageous and compassionate but one that is rooted in basic justice – proper treatment for people who, through no fault of their own, are living with the fear of fire just round the corner.”
Where Are We on The Cladding Issue?
After Grenfell, the Conservative government identified 457 buildings with ACM (aluminium composite material) cladding, which was revised to 433 without explanation. 30 months after the fire, 318 high-rise buildings still have ACM cladding.
Following pressure from Grenfell survivors, the government have released £400m funding for social housing cladding and £200m for the private sector. Only one block, out of an estimated 86, in the private sector has reached pre-contract approval stage for funding.
Although funding is welcomed, there’s no way to prioritise the work as the specific risks in each building is unknown. No one knows which of these buildings would burn like Grenfell if they caught fire, yet the Government has assumed the buildings are safe to occupy without validation.
Social housing landlords have requested government clarity for all combustible materials on high-rise buildings, where their residents have been unable to sell or re-mortgage because of the cladding.
The Government has established a ‘protection board’ chaired by the National Fire Chiefs Council to ensure all 318 buildings clad with Grenfell-style materials are safe while awaiting remediation work, before expanding to ‘high-risk’ UK residential buildings if necessary, by 2021.
There are no restrictions to the use of combustible materials on buildings below 18m, yet there are 100,000 buildings in this category. Grenfell inquiry experts believe a more sensible threshold would be 11m.
There are many buildings that require cladding remediation for materials that isn’t ACM and therefore fall outside the government’s agenda. This puts the bill in the hands of social housing landlords and private sector leaseholders, leaving them with a mountain of debt.
As with the Government’s ACM programme, there’s no prioritisation and their published guidance Advice Note 14 seems to have only exacerbated the issues for residents. With only one series of tests publicly released on non-ACM cladding, everyone is still as much in the dark about what’s safe.
The responsibility for identifying dangerous buildings has fallen to the local authorities, stretching their budget and powers leaving work stalled.
What’s the Current State of the Fire and Rescue Service?
Between 2010, when the Tory-Lib Dem coalition took office, and 2019 UK firefighter numbers have fallen by 11,500. Government funding for the English Fire and Rescue Service has been cut by 30% since 2013. Overall spending on the UK Fire and Rescue Services has been cut by 38% since 2005, when Labour was in power.
The Home Office is responsible for fire and rescue policies, as of 2016.
What’s the Current Law on Fire Safety?
Local Fire and Rescue authorities are responsible for enforcing fire safety legislation in most premises. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) can enforce responsibility on construction sites, nuclear premises and ships under construction or undergoing repair.
England and Wales:
In the Conservative’s 2019 manifesto they have promised to implement the recommendations of the Grenfell inquiry and “support residents with the removal of unsafe cladding”, which is what they’ve been promising to do since June 2017.
The current Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he wants to look at the problem of fire safety and combustible cladding on high rises “from top to bottom”. The Conservative government is said to be working as fast as they can to get ACM off public buildings.
When he was the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson states he “never liked it when developers said [they] wanted to put cladding on – and I insisted on brick”.
The Conservatives have also pledged to pass the Police Protection Bill and aim to double maximum sentences for assaulting workers in the emergency services like firefighters, police officers and paramedics.
The Conservative manifesto does not mention the Fire and Rescue Service.
The Labour Party
The Labour Party’s manifesto details a £1 billion ‘Fire Safety Fund’ to fit sprinklers and other fire safety measures in all high-rise council and housing association tower blocks, remove unsafe cladding from all high-rise homes and buildings as well as introduce mandatory building standards and guidance. It has not been explained how this will happen except for the establishment of a ‘broadly based implementation taskforce’ to make changes from Grenfell and the public enquiries.
They have also promised to invest in the Fire and Rescue Service, by evaluating staff levels, consulting on national minimum standards and recruiting at least 5,000 new firefighters. Labour wants to establish in law a standards body for fire prevention, protection and intervention with trade union representation.
They also wish to reinstate separate governance arrangement for the Fire and Rescue and Police Service as well as, give the fire service the duty to co-ordinate the emergency response to floods locally.
Labour’s manifesto also promises dedicated fire controls under Fire and Rescue Service governance and resources for public Fire and Rescue College to ensure proper training, research and planning is undertaken.
The Liberal Democrats on Fire Safety
The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto call for “safer homes”, they don’t mention cladding, Grenfell, the Fire and Rescue Service or fire safety in the UK.
Whichever party wins the general election, it will not be easy to solve the cladding crisis but they must find a solution, be able to prioritise where necessary and provide much-needed funding, before another building burns.
About Cannon Fire Protection
With over 30 years of experience, Cannon Fire Protection has developed an excellent reputation within the fire protection industry throughout the United Kingdom and Europe. Independent auditing of our quality management systems, contracting and service operations ensures the very best provision of support in our sector.