'Changes in cladding legislation will speed up Grenfell remediation'
In light of new changes to the housing health and safety regulations regarding cladding which have arisen amid the Grenfell Tower investigations, Housing Association magazine editor Victoria Galligan spoke to Dr Nigel Glen – Chief Executive Office of the Association of Residential Managing Agents.
For months the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP has been warning landlords of at-risk properties to get on and remove dangerous cladding. In early December Mr Brokenshire announced a change to the housing health and safety regulations, to force the landlords to make good these works with no apparent financial risk to the leaseholders.
The Association for Residential Managing Agents (ARMA) has been lobbying for Government intervention ever since the Grenfell Tower tragedy and flagged to Government at the outset the problem under leasehold as to who would likely pay for the cost of fire safety remedial works – and that this could seriously delay remedial works.
Dr Glen said: “After the Grenfell fire, it’s shameful that only 40 private sector sites have completed or started work on replacing cladding – 19 have been completed and 21 projects have started. There are plans in place for more private sector sites to start work but out of 289 sites that number is not high enough.
“The projects also can take a while to get started, due to organisation of elements such as scaffolding, contractors and indeed what to replace the cladding and insulation with.”
ARMA has publicly asked for Government loans to be made available and for remediation to be taken into a national programme to avoid such delays, as the safety of residents must always be the uppermost concern.
Dr Glen said: “We congratulate the Government for taking this strong approach to ensure remedial works on affected buildings can get under way immediately. People need to know they are safe and able to live their lives.
“We have always said time is of the essence here and work should be completed first and then worry about who pays later. The costs to cladding removal have given many residents grave anxieties and now some headway should start to be made more quickly.
“The Secretary of State has said that ‘leaseholders must not pay’. We keenly await details of how that will work in practice given the structure of leasehold.”
In March, residents of Citiscape in Croydon were told by the First-Tier Tribunal (Property) that they were liable for the £2milion works under the terms of their lease. In that case, the developer Barratt Homes stepped in to cover the cost of replacing the cladding. But despite that help leaseholders suffered months of stress, faced with a choice of a huge payment or living in potentially hazardous conditions.
Dr Glen said: “Payment by the leaseholders may well be the case across all the buildings under discussion, depending upon their leases. And where landlords are not the guilty party reinstalling the cladding, is it fair that they will be expected to pay? Clearly there is more work to be done but the new legislation is a welcome and significant step.”
Dr Glen said that councils have always had the power to carry out the removal of cladding and recoup the costs later, but in terms of remediation the change in regulation will mean that the councils will have more impetus to carry out the works.
He added: “In many cases the developer has offered to step in and pay for the works to be carried out but now the Government is shifting its focus on to landlords. Our stance is just to get the work done in order to keep people safe.”
There is also a change in legislation coming into force on 21st December 2018, banning the use of combustible materials on the external walls of buildings of 18m or more in height. It will ensure that the class A1 and A2 materials – recently deemed as safe to use following Grenfell – will need to be used on new developments and any cladding remedial works going forward.
Dr Glen urged more housing associations to work with and join ARMA in the future to ensure the thorough training of staff and gain other benefits such as technical support. He said: “ARMA is in talks with the NLG and we think our training would be invaluable to housing associations. If they join ARMA, a new long term career training path for those employees involved in property management has been laid out.”
For more information on ARMA and cladding legislation, see arma.org.uk.
Photo: I Wei Huang / Shutterstock.com