The new government plan to end unsafe cladding: too little, too late?
Well, not enough and not fast enough. Whilst the additional £3.5 billion in funding represents a much need injection of cash, it misses the mark in many respects.
The Housing Secretary, Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, has announced a further £3.5 billion to fully fund the remediation of unsafe cladding on residential buildings over 18m, taking the total government fund for cladding remediation to over £5 billion. Leaseholders in low-rise schemes between 11-18m in height will be eligible for a new government loan scheme under which repayments for cladding removal are capped at £50 per month. To fund the measures, a developer levy will be placed on certain high-rise developments and a new tax on the residential property sector will be introduced in 2022.
However, the proposals do not go far enough to address the immediate concerns of leaseholders, building owners and the construction industry.
The £5 billion fund is only currently available for residential buildings higher than 18m. This limit is reflective of the measures used within the Building Regulations 2010, however investigations undertaken after the 2017 Grenfell fire tragedy have revealed ACM cladding issues to be widespread. The decision to restrict the funding to 18m+ is now beginning to look like an arbitrary measure in the face of such a large-scale problem.
Non-ACM cladding concerns
The measures only refer to defective cladding, yet in the wake of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry it is clear that the problems with external wall systems extend much further than ACM cladding: insulation, cavity barriers and fire compartmentation have all been identified as areas of concern. Greater clarity is needed on the position of buildings that do not have ACM cladding but are nonetheless shown to have unsafe external wall systems.
Inadequate levels of funding
£5 billion may still not be enough money to cover the extent of the remediation required. The government has not provided an assessment as to how many buildings this fund is estimated to cover.
Notably no measures have been announced to address problems in the existing applications process. The process for applying for remediation funding is complex and frequently requires professional advice which is a cost not covered by the funding.
Continued uncertainty for homeowners
No timescales have been provided for the implementation of the majority of the measures, and several of the measures are still within the consultation phase. No retrospective measures have been introduced to assist those who have been affected over the past two years.
This is of no help to the thousands of leaseholders who are currently unable to re-mortgage or sell their homes and who continue to absorb enormous shocks to their income. The government plan pushes a resolution further down the road and leaves leaseholders in limbo.
Lack of support for the construction industry
The measures pay scant attention to the difficulties faced by the construction industry in meeting the enormous demand for cladding remediation. Increasing numbers of specialist contractors and consultants are being refused Professional Indemnity insurance to cover fire-related cladding works. The announcement makes only a passing reference to this serious practical issue. Without adequate insurance cover, the design and construction of the all-important remedial works face further delays and increased costs. By not addressing these concerns, the government is in danger of losing sight of its ultimate goal of ensuring the safety of residents.
The government’s plan will be considered by many leaseholders as little more than a token gesture towards resolving the matter of dangerous external wall systems. There is clearly still some way to go to providing a satisfactory outcome for the countless people affected by this issue. No doubt Mr Jenrick’s plan will be one of a number of similar measures that will be needed as the full extent of the cladding problem is unearthed.
Alexandra Treacy is a Trainee Solicitor currently sat in our Construction team.
Construction Partner, Andrew Parker, was quoted In the Law Society Gazette and Property Week following his comments in the wake of the Government's announcement of a revised plan to end unsafe cladding in residential buildings across England.