Government forces developers to fix cladding crisis
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove has warned developers that they must pay to fix the cladding crisis that they caused as he overhauls the government’s approach to building safety
Mr Gove has written to industry giving them a deadline of early March to agree a fully funded plan of action including remediating unsafe cladding on 11-18 metre buildings, currently estimated to be £4 billion.
He warns he will take all steps necessary to make this happen, including restricting access to government funding and future procurements, the use of planning powers and the pursuit of companies through the courts. He adds that if industry fails to take responsibility, the government will if necessary impose a solution in law.
The Secretary of State made an oral statement to the House of Commons on January 10 announcing plans to protect innocent leaseholders, who are trapped in unsellable homes and face excessive bills to fix dangerous cladding defects.
Mr Gove also unveiled a package of measures to restore common sense to the industry and end the situation of buildings being declared unsafe when they are not.
In the letter, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove states: ‘Our home should be a source of security and pride. For too many of the people living in properties your industry has built in recent years, their home has become a source of misery. This must change’.
Mr Gove adds: ‘It is neither fair nor decent that innocent leaseholders, many of whom have worked hard and made sacrifices to get a foot on the housing ladder, should be landed with bills they cannot afford to fix problems they did not cause.
‘Government has accepted its share of responsibility and made significant financial provision through its ACM remediation programme and the Building Safety Fund. Some developers have already done the right thing and funded remedial works and I commend them for those actions.
‘But too many others have failed to live up to their responsibilities’.
In the letter, the Secretary of State asks companies to agree to:
- Make financial contributions to a dedicated fund to cover the full outstanding cost to remediate unsafe cladding on 11-18 metre buildings, currently estimated to be £4 billion
- Fund and undertake all necessary remediation of buildings over 11 metres that they have played a role in developing
- Provide comprehensive information on all buildings over 11 meters which have historic safety defects and which they have played a part in constructing in the last 30 years.
The government says the vast majority of 11-18 metre buildings are safe and others that do have combustible cladding may also be safe or can be made safe through effective use of existing or new fire safety measures, such as sprinklers and alarms. There are, however, a small number of residential buildings with unsafe cladding which must be addressed.
Mr Gove says developers must take forward all necessary remediation work at pace – prioritising those with greatest risks first and in all cases finding the quickest and most proportionate solution to make buildings safe.
He calls on industry to enter an open and transparent dialogue with the government to hear their proposals, starting with a roundtable with the largest residential developers and trade bodies. The government will invite leaseholders and those affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy to the table to discuss solutions at appropriate junctures to ensure discussions are not taking place behind closed doors.
The government will announce a decision on which companies are in scope for funding contributions following discussions with industry, but expect it to cover all firms with annual profits from housebuilding at or above £10 million.
The statement follows the Secretary of State ordering the suspension of Rydon Homes, who are linked to a company responsible for the refurbishment of the Grenfell Tower, from the government’s Help to Buy scheme.
Mr Gove also condemned the Mercedes F1 team sponsorship deal with Kingspan, a company connected to the crisis.
Fire chiefs welcome government announcement on building safety
The National Fire Chiefs Council has welcomed the announcements by Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, as an encouraging step towards fixing the cladding crisis and improving building safety
On January 10, the government outlined its new approach to protect leaseholders from paying for the expensive remediation of unsafe cladding on buildings above 11 metres, and that developers and cladding companies will instead be required to fund the work. The announcement included a call for developers to identify and provide information on buildings with historic fire safety defects from the last 30 years where they have been involved in their construction.
The NFCC believes this is a positive step in the right direction, and calls on government for this to be supported by further changes so new buildings are built as fire safe buildings through a strengthening of Approved Document B.
NFCC’s Protection and Business Safety Committee Chair, Gavin Tomlinson, said: “The NFCC welcomes the government’s announcement on fixing the cladding crisis and improving building safety. We will be keenly looking at what it means for leaseholders, potential funding for the identified historic fire safety defects, and fire and rescue services. The NFCC has always said the financial burden and emotional impact on leaseholders was unfair, and this is an encouraging move towards redressing the balance.
“We will continue to urge the government to take further steps on building safety. We would like to see the review of Approved Document B expedited, and the guidance to be updated to ensure that new buildings are safer and more inclusive from the outset. To improve accessibility and ensure that homes are fit for purpose, we would like more requirements in terms of stairs, evacuation lifts, and use of measures such as refuge areas to be considered.”
Mr Gove also made a commitment of £27 million to fund fire alarm installation in buildings with a waking watch. Mark Hardingham, NFCC Chair, added: “The NFCC welcomes this additional funding to install fire alarm systems. Installing fire alarm systems is a more reliable, safer and cost-effective solution to early fire detection, which will almost always remove or significantly reduce the need for waking watches.”
British Safety Council responds to government’s cladding announcement
The British Safety Council says funds announced to address the cladding crisis will not go far enough
Commenting on last month’s announcement by Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing, in which he set out plans to raise £4bn to replace combustible cladding on buildings of heights between 11m and 18m, Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of British Safety Council, said: “The announcement is a positive step forward as it will hopefully take the burden off many thousands of leaseholders facing large costs to replace unsafe cladding. It is also of course right that the construction industry continues to play its part in helping to resolve these issues.
“The government must also shoulder its own responsibilities, having overseen the regulatory framework that led to Grenfell and other similar tragedies. We need to see all sides taking a positive and constructive approach to discussions between now and March.
“The sad truth is the funds announced may also not go far enough. They will not pay leaseholders’ costs for other issues beyond cladding that aren’t included in these plans, such as balconies on a building that have been built with flammable material.
“The Grenfell fire showed how broad the building safety crisis is, spanning not just construction but design, manufacturing, fire safety and building management. However, there is no excuse for it having taken over four and half years to get to this point and these other issues also need to be approached with urgency.”
Union says cladding announcement leaves residents “desperately short”
The Fire Brigades Union reports on their response to Michael Gove’s announcement on the building safety crisis stating it still leaves residents “desperately short of where they need to be”, more than four years after Grenfell
Building safety crisis problems increase fire risk and therefore put firefighters and residents at further risk. The union has a long record of fighting for improved fire safety and has supported residents since Grenfell exposed the scale of the building safety crisis.
The announcement, which comes in the form of a letter to the residential property developer industry, indicates that the government will try and secure up to £4bn for cladding repairs to buildings between 11 and 18.5m from developers. The BBC has further reported that the government may pay the costs if the funding cannot be secured from developers. Previously, many leaseholders in these buildings had been set to pay the cost of these repairs.
However, this does not cover other building safety defects in buildings of this height – and existing funding does not cover these other issues in buildings over 18m. Issues with defective fire doors, internal compartmentation, wooden balconies or other construction defects have also rendered many buildings unsafe.
It is not clear that £4 billion will be enough to cover the cost of these repairs. According to the BBC, “experts” have questioned whether this figure will be sufficient.
Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “This is a result of determined campaigning by leaseholders and tenants. It shows that the government can be pressured into progress, and we commend the efforts of campaigners.
“We have always been clear here – residents should not carry any cost for failure they did not cause. Developers, suppliers and buildings owners are responsible, and they should pay.
“However, this announcement does leave us with cause for concern. This change does not cover all fire safety failings in buildings of this height. Over four years after Grenfell, this means that residents are left desperately short of where they need to be.
“Government failures allowed this to happen – they cannot shirk their responsibility. The FBU stands in solidarity with all victims of the building safety crisis.”
Fire Safety Minister Calls for innovation to tackle cladding crisis
Lord Greenhalgh, Minister of State for Building Safety and Fire, has called for innovation aiming to tackle the UK’s cladding crisis to be encouraged – citing an external fire detection system as an example of what can be achieved
During a statement in the House of Lords on January 11, Lord Greenhalgh stressed the need for innovative solutions such as the Intelliclad system, which has recently been installed in four buildings, boosting safety and eliminating the need for Waking Watch patrols – with funding provided through the Waking Watch Relief Scheme.
Intelliclad’s system involves alarms being installed within the external façade of high-risk buildings in order to detect the early symptoms of a fire.
New research suggests that the installation of detectors into the external façade is a much-needed intervention. Statistics indicate that, since 2010, 60 per cent of all high-rise façade fires across the globe have started externally.
The system has also been supported by renowned fire safety expert Frances Maria Peacock, whose reports and technical papers have been submitted to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.
Speaking in the House of Lords in January, Lord Greenhalgh said: “We need a call for innovation. If we are to have more buildings made safe not by costly remediation where people profit – let us be clear, they profit from remediation – let us make mitigation a possibility in more homes.
“That is why I am delighted that we are beginning to fund some innovative ideas, some of which will work and some of which will not. I mention the Intelliclad system that has been funded by the Waking Watch Relief scheme. I shall not go into exactly how that works, but it is a form of innovation that may make mitigation an option more often than remediation.”
Lord Greenhalgh also invited his peers to join him in visiting two sites where Intelliclad has been installed, in Croydon and Southampton.
Darron Brough and business partner Mohammed Zulfiquar launched Intelliclad in late 2020 after three years of development. Darron said: “There has been much seemingly positive progress for residents affected by the cladding crisis lately, but we all know there is so much more to be done. Promises and pledges of support may take some time to materialise, but we are ready to play our part in boosting building safety right now.
“We’re thankful for the recognition from Lord Greenhalgh and support his call for innovation from all corners to help alleviate the stress and strain residents are facing and allow them to move on with their lives.
“The Intelliclad system, tested at the FPA, is battery powered and utilises smart technology to alert residents when heat and smoke are detected within cavities on vulnerable buildings. The cost of installation can be around 40 per cent of an annual waking watch budget which makes it not only the safer, but more cost-effective solution.”
Fire Brigades Union offers to coordinate with US on safety
The Fire Brigades Union has written to US counterparts to offer to work together on building safety campaigning in light of the Bronx apartment fire and the Grenfell Tower disaster
The deadly Bronx apartment fire, which took place on January 9, claimed the lives of 19 people, including children. It took place in a 19-storey apartment block.
Early reports have pointed to similarities between the Bronx disaster and Grenfell, with failing door closers, lift problems, a lack of sprinklers, and an ignorance of resident voices in the years up to the incidents all present for both fires.
In letters sent to Andrew Ansbro, President of the Uniformed Firefighters Association (Greater NY Local 94 of the International Association of Fire Fighters), and Edward A. Kelly, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack stated: ‘The FBU continues to campaign for justice for the victims of Grenfell Tower and for a wholesale overhaul of the building safety regime in the UK, and we are always happy to coordinate… on this work’.
He also wrote: ‘For many of our members, [the fire] will bring back awful memories of battling the Grenfell Tower apartment block fire in London in 2017... In order to prevent anything like this occurring again, may this disaster prompt politicians to assess fire safety measures in similar buildings’.
In the years since the Grenfell Tower disaster the Fire Brigades Union says it has been working extensively to investigate the causes of the fire and hold those responsible to account, producing reports and participating in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. It has repeatedly pointed blame at the building safety system as a whole and government deregulatory agendas stretching back 40 years.
Construction and cladding code published
BSI, in its role as the UK National Standards Body, reports on publishing a new code of practice for the fire risk appraisal of external wall construction and cladding of existing multi storey and multi occupied residential buildings
The code of practice has primarily been developed to support the upcoming changes to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order which will confirm that the fire performance of external cladding systems is a material consideration.
The code, PAS 9980:2021, Fire risk appraisal of external wall construction and cladding of existing blocks of flats – Code of practice, has been developed by a steering group of experts in construction, fire, housing and safety. It is for use by fire engineers and other competent building professionals when undertaking a fire risk appraisal of external walls (FRAEW).
The standard sets out a methodology to conduct and record fire risk appraisals of external walls, which can be scaled up or down depending upon the complexity of individual buildings. It uses a five-step risk assessment process to assist in the identification of risk factors influencing the overall risk rating of a building, as well as mitigation steps that might improve the risk rating. Not all buildings will require an appraisal, and of those that do, not all will require intrusive inspection.
It also gives recommendations for the competence of professionals completing such appraisals. The standard aims to assist with the ongoing effort to increase the number of competent professionals, by providing the knowledge on fire risk arising from various aspects of external wall construction.
Where homeowners and building owners are faced with external wall construction which does not meet the expected standards, PAS 9980 provides a methodology for assessing the level of safety. It also identifies the proportionate steps that could be taken to better safeguard residents while seeking not to expose them to undue financial burdens.
The standard does not alter the obligations placed upon those carrying out building work on external wall construction, nor does it affect the compliance of past building work, whether measured against Building Regulations or contractual obligations.
The standard is sponsored by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Home Office.
BAFE Fire Safety Register announces appointment of new Managing Director
Following a thorough recruitment drive, the BAFE Fire Safety Register reports on the appointment of its new Managing Director, Dr Justin Maltby-Smith
Since BAFE’s establishment in 1984, and subsequently going fully independent in 2009, the registration body continues to have a core role in establishing methods to evidence competency within the fire safety arena. With this comes its own significant responsibility of ensuring the BAFE portfolio of schemes available consistently represent the highest echelon of competency for specific fire safety works.
Justin joins the BAFE Fire Safety Register from his most recent roles as Technical Scheme Development Manager at NAPIT and before this a long tenure at Certsure/NICEIC leaving as Head of Schemes and Operations. On his appointment, Justin commented: “This is a great time to be joining such a highly respected organisation. Stephen [Adams] has developed BAFE to become the quality standard within the fire safety industry which I plan to continue and expand its reach. I, alongside the quality BAFE team, will work on further development of quantifying competency. I am excited for the next chapter of BAFE’s growth, knowing we already have robust and longstanding foundations to build upon.”
BAFE Chair, Douglas Barnett, stated: “Justin will be a great addition to the BAFE team. The Board and I trust he will lead the organisation in the right directions required. His knowledge and experience within both UKAS accredited third-party certification and electrotechnical sectors brings a level of expertise that will be extremely valuable to the development and management of both new and existing competency schemes for the fire safety sector.”
Douglas added: “We must also give our huge thanks to Lewis Ramsay (BAFE Board Member) who has been a crucial player in managing the business during this interim period. Lewis has been central to the delivery of services and schemes to our customers during the challenges of the pandemic.”
For further information about the BAFE Fire Safety Register visit: www.bafe.org.uk
Smoke guidance documents released
The Smoke Control Association has released two new reference guides designed to encourage best practice and raise industry standards
The first guidance document – Smoke extract fan maintenance; Best practice guide ensuring that your life safety equipment is fit for purpose – was produced in collaboration with the Fan Manufacturers’ Association (FMA) and emphasises the need to ensure that any powered smoke extract fans which are selected, manufactured and installed in accordance with EN 12101-3:2015 must then be correctly maintained to ensure that they continue to offer building occupants the highest degree of smoke protection.
The second guide is titled Guidance on Smoke and Heat Exhaust Ventilators. Applications and the use of Actuators and Ventilators and provides information on natural smoke and heat exhaust vents (NSHEVs) usage, methodology and, importantly, compliance/certification requirements.
David Mowatt, SCA Chairman, comments: “These new documents will be important industry reference points for those involved in the maintenance of smoke extract fans or anyone looking for guidance relating to the use of smoke and heat exhaust ventilators. The SCA, in conjunction with other experts from the fire industry, are committed to raising standards of fire protection aligned to the Golden Thread initiative.”
Both industry guides are available as free downloads from www.smokecontrol.org.uk/resources