The UK government is putting out consultation plans to ban combustible cladding on all residential buildings with four or more stories. This follows a 2018 snap ban on putting combustible materials in cladding systems for buildings over 18m tall, a move that many of London’s best property solicitors supported following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Speaking in Parliament on 20 January 2021, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick issued a dire warning to building owners that the government would start naming those who had not started work to remove unsafe Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding from their buildings.
Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said:
“The government is committed to bringing about the biggest change in building safety for a generation.
“Progress on improving building safety needs to move significantly faster to ensure people are safe in their homes and building owners are held to account.
“That’s why today I’m announcing a major package of reforms, including establishing the Building Safety Regulator within the Health and Safety Executive to oversee the new regime and publishing consolidated guidance for building owners.
“Unless swift progress is seen in the coming weeks, I will publicly name building owners where action to remediate unsafe ACM cladding has not started. There can be no more excuses for delay, I’m demanding immediate action.”
In addition to the consultation plans, the Minister also announced:
- As mentioned in the Minister’s comment above, a Building Safety Regulator would be established immediately in shadow form before being fully created by legislation. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been asked by the government to establish a Building Safety Regulator. It will be responsible for overseeing building standards, including a more robust regime for high-risk buildings. Dame Judith Hackett will preside over the creation of the new regulatory body.
- The government-appointed independent expert advisory panel (IEAP) has clarified and updated advice to building owners regarding the safety measures that must be implemented and emphasised the focus should be on cladding. The advice makes it clear that building owners must address safety issues on residential buildings 18m or under. AMC and other metal composites with an unmodified polyethylene core must not be used on any residential buildings of any height and removed from existing structures.
- A construction expert will be appointed to review AMC cladding remediation timescales and identify how the process can be sped up. To remove the barrier of costs, a factor which has seen many property litigation lawyers managing disputes between building owners and leaseholders/tenants or building owners and local authorities, the government is examining options to mitigate costs and provide alternative financing pathways to the already existing £1.6bn Building Safety Programme.
- The proposed height threshold for sprinkler system requirements in new buildings will be announced in February 2021.
- Further details have been provided on the Fire Safety Bill which is being introduced in Parliament. The proposed legislation will amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (‘the Fire Safety Order 2005’) to make building owners accountable for not complying with the necessary fire safety guidelines. Residential building owners will have a legal obligation to consider and mitigate the risks of any external wall systems and front doors to individual flats.
Finding a specialist lawyer for landlord and tenant disputes
Solicitors specialising in property law are working closely with landlords and leaseholders/tenants to resolve disputes around cladding removal. Many leaseholders are living in flats that are unsalable (not to mention unsafe), and it has become clear that there is a significant shortfall between the cost of the cladding removal and associated repairs and the government funding available.
According to the BBC, a clause in the contract the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government requires applicants to the fund, usually managing agents or building owners, to sign states that applicants themselves will be liable for any repair costs not covered by the fund. This has led to many managing agents and building owners understandably refusing to sign until the government clarifies the extent of their liability.
The Housing Minister’s announcement concerning measures to fix the ongoing cladding crisis will be welcome by property lawyers, building owners, and leaseholders/tenants alike. However, with the threat of naming and shaming freeholders who have not started to undertake work or whose building repairs are progressing slowly, the pressure is mounting on the government to swiftly provide clarity and additional funding schemes.