Monday 18 November 2019 / 12:43 PM Grenfell / Housing

Sarah Jones writes to Secretary of State calling for urgent clarity around Government cladding testing regime

Following the Bolton tower block fire, Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister has written to the Housing Secretary outlining a 12 questions that require an urgent response.

Sarah Jones writes:

“Two and a half years after Grenfell it simply beggars belief that the Government has left eight in ten buildings covered in the same deadly cladding. And it is equally astounding that you neither know how many other types of deadly cladding exist, nor how many buildings are wrapped in it.”

She writes regarding the Grenfell style cladding:

“Figures reveal that at the current rate, the social sector will not be made safe until October 2022 and private blocks until October 2033. How do you intend on getting this programme of work back on target?”

She also challenges the Government on what they knew about the HPL cladding, the cladding that on the side of the Bolton tower block:

“Labour has been warning since July 2017 that the cladding crisis was not limited to ACM cladding. It took your Government two years to admit that High Pressure Laminate (HPL) was too dangerous to be kept on buildings. Can you corroborate what  is indicated by planning documents, that the cladding on the block in Bolton is the same Trespa brand as the failed fire test shown to your department in November 2018”

She calls for action to remove all dangerous types of cladding:

“Following a large-scale British Standards test on all non-ACM cladding samples, will you commit to immediately ordering the removal of all cladding which fails the tests?

 

Full copy of the letter:

Rt Hon Robert Jenrick

Secretary of State, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

2 Marsham St, Westminster

London SW1P 4DF

November 2019

Dear Secretary of State

I know you will share my concern the recent fire in Bolton and will want to join me in paying tribute to the emergency services who acted so swiftly and professionally to ensure no one was seriously injured.

This was the fifth fire just this year which has ripped through a multi-occupancy building and a shocking reminder that tens of thousands of people are still living in buildings with lethal cladding.

Two and a half years after Grenfell it simply beggars belief that the Government has left eight in ten buildings covered in the same deadly cladding. And it is equally astounding that you neither know how many other types of deadly cladding exist, nor how many buildings are wrapped in it.

It has now been confirmed that the block in Bolton was clad in High Pressure Laminate (HPL). This is incredibly concerning given that a Government Minister has admitted being aware of a failed fire test involving the same brand of Trespa HPL cladding over a year ago. The Government’s inaction since, in light of this weekend’s events, is stunning.

Your Government has been off the pace at every stage since Grenfell and has sought to abdicate responsibility for what is clearly a national crisis and a monumental failure of government regulation.

With this in mind, I would be grateful for your urgent response to the following questions:

Setting a deadline for the removal of all ACM cladding

  1. The removal and replacement of ACM cladding on social and private blocks is still far too slow. After repeated Labour pressure, your government set targets to see social blocks completed by the end of the year and private blocks by June 2020. However figures reveal that at the current rate, the social sector will not be made safe until October 2022 and private blocks until October 2033. How do you intend on getting this programme of work back on target?
  2. The funding for the removal of cladding from social blocks has still not been fully allocated – despite it being announced well over a year ago. Can you confirm when both cladding funds will be fully distributed?
  3. There are even bigger questions over the fund for removing ACM cladding from private blocks. Not a single block has been allocated funding, despite the fund being announced six months ago. You have said that some developers will maintain their commitment to pay for the work but have given no clarity on how many blocks this accounts for, nor what you will do if developers backtrack having previously agreed to pay. Can you clarify how many blocks the £200m fund your Government announced in June, will cover, and whether you will set a deadline for the funding to be allocated?

Guaranteeing that all flammable cladding is identified

  1. Labour has been warning since July 2017 that the cladding crisis was not limited to ACM cladding. It took your Government two years to admit that High Pressure Laminate (HPL) was too dangerous to be kept on buildings. Can you corroborate what is indicated by planning documents, that the cladding on the block in Bolton is the same Trespa brand as the failed fire test shown to your department in November 2018?
  2. Can you confirm what action the Government has taken to remove dangerous HPL cladding from tower blocks across the country since admitting in the summer that it should be removed? It would appear to those living in affected tower blocks that your Government has done nothing.
  3. Do you agree that the Bolton fire demonstrates that urgent action must begin from Government to remediate HPL clad buildings?
  4. Your Government has tested HPL and Grenfell-style ACM cladding to the British Standards approved pass/fail criteria. Will you commit to testing all remaining samples of non-ACM cladding to the same standard?

Finding and removing all flammable cladding from tower blocks

  1. Following a large-scale British Standards test on all non-ACM cladding samples, will you commit to immediately ordering the removal of all cladding which fails the tests?
  2. After Grenfell, the Government short-sightedly only collected information on private blocks containing ACM cladding and still has no overall picture of the number of blocks covered in suspect non-ACM cladding. Will you commit to fast-tracking the building cladding surveys on tall buildings so that work can start as soon as possible if any samples fail a large-scale test?

Putting the safety of residents first

  1. Residents deserve to know immediately if their block is covered in dangerous materials, but you are still unable to guarantee that this has happened in buildings found to have unsafe cladding to date. Ministers continue to insist that building owners are responsible for informing residents. Given reports of residents in buildings with flammable cladding being kept in the dark about this fact, will you commit to communicating directly with residents in blocks with failed cladding, to name and shame the owners of these blocks?
  2. Will you toughen the sanctions for any block owners who do not act to remove and replace dangerous cladding (ACM or non-ACM) with stronger powers for councils to take over blocks where owners refuse to do this, to get the work done?  Too many unscrupulous private building owners have left residents living in fear while they pass on extortionate bills for interim fire safety measures such as waking watches.
  3. Sprinklers are a legal requirement for all new high-rise blocks, yet ministers continue to claim retrofitting of high-rise social blocks is ‘non-essential’.  Following calls from numerous councils and fire experts, will you match Labour’s commitment to a £1bn Fire Safety Fund to retrofit sprinklers in social sector tower blocks?

This is a national crisis which requires a national response. Your Government cannot keep sitting on its hands when so many lives are in peril.

I hope you are able to respond urgently on these points.

Best wishes,

Sarah Jones