The government has backed away from its pledge to have Grenfell-style cladding removed from tall buildings by next month, with the dangerous material remaining on hundreds of buildings.
In July last year, James Brokenshire, then communities secretary, said in a written statement he expected all remediation work to be finished by June 2020 and warned building owners should “expect enforced action” if they did not meet the deadline.
However, some 307 high-rise towers are still awaiting the completion of remediation work as of the end of April, while 42 buildings have been stripped of the dangerous cladding, according to government figures.
Critics have accused the government of failing to take any meaningful action against wealthy building owners and said they hope ministers “feel deeply ashamed” as the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy approaches.
A spokesperson for the government did not say whether it would be able to uphold the pledge and said “remediation work takes time and must be done safely and properly”.
The spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told Inside Housing: “Building owners are responsible for making their buildings safe.
“Remediation work takes time and must be done safely and properly. How long it takes varies according to the individual building, depending on the type and extent of the work required.”
When Mr Brokenshire made his statement last July, there were 327 high-rise buildings with aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, the same type used on Grenfell Tower.
Of those, 102 were social housing buildings, 163 were in the private sector, 26 were student towers, 29 were hotels and seven were publicly owned.
Mr Brokenshire said remediation work on all social housing towers would be complete by the end of last year and other towers would be complete by June 2020, except for for “exceptional circumstances”.
Although work on 42 buildings was completed during the year, more have been discovered, leaving the total number at 307, just 20 lower than when Mr Brokenshire made his pledge.
Of those, some 180 private buildings are awaiting the completion of works.
“It’s sadly no surprise that the government is retreating from its own target for the removal of this deadly cladding,” the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, Matt Wrack, said in a statement to The Independent.
“Residents being let down and ignored was a common theme before Grenfell, and little has changed since from a government that appears to think that targets are gimmicks for departmental press releases, rather than vital matters of safety.”
He added: “Ministers trying to use the excuse that ‘remediation work takes time’ is obscene given that we are almost three years on since the Grenfell tragedy.
“The truth is that there has barely been any progress because the government doesn’t consider the safety of residents a priority, and would rather kick the can down the road than take any meaningful action against wealthy building owners who refuse to make their buildings safe.
“As we approach the third anniversary of Grenfell, we hope ministers feel deeply ashamed.”
A spokesperson for the government told Inside Housing: “Residents’ safety remains our priority. This government is bringing forward the biggest change in building safety in a generation, backed by our unprecedented £1.6bn fund to ensure unsafe cladding, where it remains in place, is removed as soon as possible.
“We have also issued guidance to ensure that this essential building safety work continues during the pandemic and have secured pledges from 26 local leaders and five metro mayors to ensure this vital remediation work continues, where it is safe to do so.”
The Independent has contacted the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for comment.
An inquiry into the Grenfell Tower tragedy has been postponed as the UK implemented its social distancing guidelines to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
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