Councils ‘can’t afford’ safety improvements to high rise flats, ministers warned
Authorities demand funding assurances and guidance on replacement materials
The Department for Communities and Local Government has been issued with a renewed plea for funding help and guidance in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Following the department’s latest update on building cladding and insulation fire-testing results, the Local Government Association warned that councils with housing responsibilities “cannot afford to carry out work on high rises”.
The association, which is a lobby group representing more than 300 local authorities in England and Wales, said it was now clear that the government needed to step in and assist with the costs associated with replacing materials that do not meet fire-safety standards.
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DCLG’s latest bulletin following the June 14 tragedy, in which at least 80 people are believed to have died, said Building Research Establishment investigators testing Aluminium Composite Material cladding of the type used at the west London block had found one ACM-and-insulation combination that passed fire safety tests.
However earlier tests using ACM panel variants in combination with different insulation failed to meet safety regulations, meaning remedial work will be required on structures over 18-metres tall in which the pairing is utilised.
Councillor Simon Blackburn, who chairs the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board, said authorities with high-rise blocks featuring ACM cladding had already taken steps to reassure residents about the buildings’ safety, and added that it was important that the testing process was now moving towards identifying what materials landlords should be replacing problem systems with.
“We remain firmly of the view that the government needs to meet the exceptional cost to councils of removing and replacing cladding and insulation on high-rise blocks,” he said.
“We are talking to the councils affected about the costs they now face to remove and replace cladding and insulation systems on their high-rise blocks.”
Blackburn said the BRE tests had implications for buildings other than those in public ownership and called on DCLG to clarify the powers councils had to encourage private sector landlords make sure that buildings with unsafe cladding were refurbished.
“Councils want to ensure all residents in their local area are safe in their homes, regardless of whether they own the block or not,” he said.
“There are concerns that other landlords in some areas are not acting as quickly to inform residents about test fails and lack the urgency shown by councils to identify their buildings with the cladding and insulation systems which have failed tests so far and take steps to make them safe.”
Blackburn said it was clear that the current building regulation system had failed, and that councils couldn’t afford to bear the brunt of the implications.
A DCLG spokesman said the department had been clear with local authorities that it expected them to do whatever local fire services and experts said was necessary to make residential buildings safe.
“We will ensure that where local fire services have advised works are essential to ensure the fire safety of a building, current restrictions on the use of financial resources will not prevent them going ahead,” he said.
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