We have recently passed the four-year anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, and yet the cladding crisis that was born from its aftermath rages on. It’s for this reason that End Our Cladding Scandal (EOCS) staged their Leaseholders Together Rally on September 16th, 2021, to bring awareness of this ongoing issue to the Government. But it’s not only the politicians who should be listening; it affects so many, from mortgage lenders to freeholders and of course those involved in housing and construction. So what can we, as people who work in this industry, do to make a difference?
Recommendations from the Government
In a government report published February 2021 by then Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, a five-point plan was outlined, in which the Government has stated it will:
- Pay for the removal of unsafe cladding for leaseholders in all residential buildings 18 metres and over (6 storeys) in England
- Provide a generous finance scheme to reassure leaseholders in buildings between 11 and 18 metres (4 to 6 storeys), ensuring they never pay more than £50 a month for cladding removal
- Introduce an industry levy and tax to ensure developers play their part
- Initiate a world-class new safety regime to ensure a tragedy like Grenfell never happens again
- Provide confidence to this part of the housing market, including lenders and surveyors.
All buildings 18 metres and over will be covered by the fund.
As of 2022 there will be a new tax on the UK residential property development sector, targeting those who have annual profits of over £25 million. This ‘Developers Levy’, coupled with the funding already made available from the Government, brings the total to £5bn — a figure which many warn will fall short of solving this monumental problem.
Recommendations to the Government
Despite the outlined plan, many leaseholders have remained frustrated in the months since, trapped in unsafe homes and expected to foot the ever-increasing bill. This lead to the End Our Cladding Scandal #LeaseholdersTogether rally on 16th September 2021, attended by Grenfell survivors and supporters, and hundreds more cladding and insulation scandal victims. Many speakers and commentators demanded that Michael Gove step up to the challenge in his new role as Housing Secretary, including Labour MP, Rushanara Ali.
In March 2021, Irwin Mitchell published the comprehensive report, ‘Cladding- A Way Forward’, to provide additional recommendations that expanded on the general points outlined by the Government in February. Amongst others, this included:
“Access to government funding for remediation work must be made easier and faster, with a significant increase in the fund to cover all dangerous materials or defects including those recovered by remediation. A figure of £15bn is proposed, which it is understood will cover all dangerous buildings, regardless of height.”
There is no doubt the problems that leaseholders are facing are acute. Red-tape, legal jargon and promises that are yet to come to fruition are having a hugely detrimental effect on victims’ mental health. A report published by The Leasehold Knowledge Partnership in June 2021 stated that the cladding crisis and its lack of solution after years of campaigning has even left 23% of all leaseholders in cladding sites feeling suicidal!
How the construction industry can help
Whilst it cannot be denied that there are systematic issues which helped contribute to events such as the Grenfell Tower disaster, it cannot be denied that — in an industry such as construction — every developer has the power to make an immense impact from the foundations up. As members of the industry, we strive to put occupants’ welfare first without simply following the rules to a bare minimum.
At its core, construction is about ensuring people’s safety, comfort and improving quality of life, so it’s important that we work to eliminate the mistakes of the past. We can take this opportunity to propel the industry into a more socially responsible state that garners trust and respect amongst our peers and occupants alike.
So, aside from levies and government promises, that leaves us on the front line of the cladding crisis with a responsibility we will have to take very seriously — and a responsibility that will also be felt financially by the larger construction firms as of April 2022.
Whether you are a large or small construction firm, from bungalows or high-rises, make a conscious effort to invest more time, money, and consideration into the materials you use and how they affect quality of life. Through the Grenfell Tower disaster and the lasting implications it has had for the leaseholders, occupants, and owners of these buildings, it’s never been clearer as to why we should all put our efforts into making lasting corrections in future housing developments that can spread positive change in the construction industry and beyond.