The Government must be held to account for its flawed strategy and resulting severe delays and now take urgent steps to make buildings safe
We made it clear to the Government from the outset that their strategy of pursuing freeholders and developers to meet the costs of remediating blocks would not succeed without real teeth (such as legislation) due to the nature of Leasehold Law in this Country, something that the Government has known all along. For many months, despite its slow progress, they carried on with this defective strategy. When they eventually decided to launch the ACM Fund they received legal advice which highlighted that freeholders and developers they had taken months to persuade to meet the costs could in fact now apply for the Fund. They made frantic contact with the committed freeholders and developers to try to persuade them not to apply for the ACM Fund and went to great lengths to keep this embarrassing situation quiet.
Also because senior figures in Government were concerned that the ACM Fund may make them liable for meeting the costs of other forms of cladding and fire safety works they seemed to hatch a plan to avoid this. When their initial non-ACM cladding tests came back, which they knew would not give a complete picture because of the limited cladding/insulations combinations chosen, they held back the results and decided not to commission more tests. They then publicly stated that the (limited) results had confirmed that ACM had an ‘unparalleled risk’ compared to other forms of cladding and this justified only paying to remediate ACM cladding systems. Subsequent private tests have shown this to be demonstrably untrue, which we believe that the Government knew, or certainly should have known, all along.
These are just two examples of the flawed strategy the Government has adopted over the past nearly 3 years. The result of this has been severe delays, meaning now hundreds of thousands of residents across the Country are trapped living in unsafe buildings, in fear of losing everything which they have worked hard for and unclear when their homes will be remediated. We believe all of the Ministers and Officials within Government that we have worked with are sincere in recognising the potential life threatening impact of these unsafe buildings. However, our experience is that they are remarkably slow and we are now close to the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy with the Government’s own data showing only 24% of private sector blocks with ACM cladding systems have started remediation. During which time two other buildings (in Barking and Bolton) have had life-changing fires for many residents.
Whilst the Committee’s brief is primarily forward looking, we ask that they hold the Government to account for their flawed strategy and severe delays to date and in doing so stress the need to urgently make buildings safe now. Once the Government has a proper
grip on this crisis, they should take steps to hold to account those developers, contractors and other parties that undertook negligent work or warranty providers that have tried to wriggle out of their liabilities. But that should not be a priority just now.