After Grenfell, buildings must be safe for all
The writer is director general of the National Housing Federation
Four years have passed since the tragic Grenfell Tower fire and the UK is still in the midst of the building safety crisis it discovered.
Today, thousands of residential buildings, schools, hospitals and offices remain covered in flammable materials as discussions continue over who should pay to secure them. It could take more than a decade for all affected buildings to meet safety standards.
We now know that it’s not just the coating that’s the problem. There are also security risks inside buildings, such as inadequate fire protection systems. The immense cost of all this work, estimated by Parliament at Â£ 15 billion, threatens to bankrupt thousands of landlords and affect the supply of much needed new social housing.
With the consequences of such far-reaching consequences – affecting not only the security of individuals but also their livelihoods, their families and their future – resolving this crisis is a tall order for any government.
In an effort both to expand homeowners’ access to financing and to ensure that work was prioritized on buildings it deemed most at risk, the government increased the Building Safety Fund to 3 , Â£ 5 billion in February. This will fund work to remove coatings other than the aluminum composite material that was on Grenfell, but is now also considered hazardous, on buildings over 18 meters tall where the owners live.
The fund aims to favor the tallest buildings, those likely to present the most risk in the event of fire. However, as it is limited to homeowner funding, no money is available for the thousands of buildings covered with non-ACM flammable siding where social housing residents live.
This decision could have unexpected but serious consequences. The deadline for submitting applications to the fund has passed this week. A requirement for funding is that the siding removal and replacement work must begin on-site by September 30, in just three months.
This means that, in a race to meet the deadline, the UK’s limited coating removal resources will likely be focused on securing private blocks in the first place. Residents of social housing will have to wait.
Housing associations are prioritizing the buildings they own based on risk. However, the vast majority of private buildings that will have been eligible for funding are owned by private landowners. This pressure on resources could create a two-tier system, where social housing residents are left in limbo in equally high-risk buildings.
Beside that, some buildings that were not eligible for funding are over six floors but less than 18 meters. These buildings are considered high enough risk to fall under the scope of new safety rules to be published in the impending Building Safety Bill, but apparently not high enough risk to be prioritized for them. security work. There is currently no priority for buildings under 18 meters, regardless of their height, coating or dangerousness by experts.
The lesson that should have been learned from the Grenfell tragedy is that safety is paramount. Safety should always be the number one priority. It doesn’t matter what and whoever.
We urgently need a government-led national prioritization program that considers all buildings and security risks so that we can coordinate the country’s limited resources where they are needed most.
For this to work effectively, the government must fund all building safety work up front, putting all buildings on a financial level playing field. They will then be able to claim the costs from those responsible for this crisis – the developers and manufacturers of hazardous materials – once the work is completed. We owe it to everyone involved to put their safety first.