40,000 people still living in deadly Grenfell-style tower blocks

Exclusive: Campaigners condemn 'national disgrace' as figures reveal 16,600 homes wrapped in banned flammable material 

Zamira Rahim
Monday 08 April 2019 22:38 BST
40,000 people still living in deadly Grenfell-style tower blocks

Nearly 40,000 people in the UK are still living in tower blocks wrapped in the same type of cladding that covered Grenfell Tower, government figures suggest.

Some 16,600 homes across 163 private residential buildings are covered in aluminium composite material (ACM), which was banned in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire, according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The Labour Party, which obtained the figures, estimated 39,840 people were living in the affected buildings nearly two years after 72 people were killed in a blaze at the west London tower block.

The calculation is based on average household size as defined by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

“These figures show the sheer number of residents in private blocks across the country who are still in grave danger,” Sarah Jones, Labour’s shadow housing minister, told The Independent.

“Many of them are trapped in costly legal battles with freeholders, building developers and insurance companies.”

ACM cladding, which has a combustible polyethylene core, has been blamed for the rapid spread of the Grenfell Tower fire.

The 24-storey residential block in North Kensington was consumed by flames after a blaze broke out in the kitchen of a fourth-floor flat in the early hours of 14 June.

In November 2018, in response to the disaster, the government banned the installation of combustible materials including ACM cladding in high-rise residential buildings.

But the ban does not apply retrospectively to buildings which already have the panels fitted.

Last year the government agreed to create a £400m fund for social sector landlords to remove ACM cladding.

While all social sector blocks have now removed the material or have a plan in place to do so, Labour said just 10 private residential blocks have taken this action.

Ms Jones added: “The housing secretary must take firm action, using Labour’s six-point plan for the cladding crisis as a blueprint to get this work done. People’s safety must be our number one priority.”

In March 2018, residents in a number of private ACM-clad tower blocks created the UK Cladding Action Group, to help raise awareness of the issue.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that we are almost two years on since Grenfell and so many people are still living in buildings with dangerous cladding on,” William Martin, one of the group’s three founders, told The Independent.

“The fact that there is even one building remaining with this type of cladding on is a national disgrace.

“The stress and concern associated with our safety and the cost implications cannot be underestimated.”

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Mr Martin added leaseholders living in such properties were unable to sell or remortgage them, leaving 40,000 people “stuck in limbo, with their lives on total hold”.

On Monday, Ms Jones raised the issue in the Commons, during questions for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for MHCLG, said he recognised the “stress, the strain, the anguish” of people living in the tower blocks.

He said a “growing list companies” were doing the right thing “and taking responsibility”.

“I urge all owners and developers to follow the lead of these companies,” he said, adding “this is a priority for me ... I am considering all other options if they do not do so.”

“There is nothing more important than making sure people are safe in their homes,” a MHCLG spokesperson said.

“All buildings have interim safety measures in place, so people can sleep safely in their beds.

“Further progress has been made in remediation, but more needs to be done. In the social sector, we are fully funding the replacement of ACM cladding with up to £400m and this is happening now.

“[We] have repeatedly made clear that building owners and developers must replace dangerous cladding quickly and leaseholders must be protected from these costs.”

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