Government set to announce billions in cladding funding amid growing criticism of Grenfell response

Measures come after Conservative MPs warn they 'will not accept loans to leaseholders' to fix fire safety issue

Vincent Wood
Wednesday 10 February 2021 01:17 GMT
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Contractors undertake works at a residential property in Paddington, London, as part of a project to remove and replace non-compliant cladding
Contractors undertake works at a residential property in Paddington, London, as part of a project to remove and replace non-compliant cladding (PA)

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The government is set to unveil a multibillion pound package of funding for work to strip homes of unsafe cladding, it has been reported following concerns some leaseholders may be loaned the money needed to fix the issue.

The housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, will address the Commons on Wednesday amid increasing pressure from his own party’s MPs over his department’s response to remove potentially hazardous coverings from buildings in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Measures being considered include a £5bn fund on top of an already established £1.6bn grant scheme that leaseholders can apply for, according to reports.

However, it has been suggested direct funding may only be offered to towers more than 18 metres in height, while smaller buildings may have to rely on loans from the government instead.

The push to remove unsafe cladding was prompted by the deadly Grenfell fire three and a half years ago, a disaster fuelled by plastic-filled aluminium panels wrapped around the building. An inquiry into the blaze which killed 72 people in Kensington, west London, is currently ongoing.

However, the pace of the government's response has left homeowners across the country unable to sell their properties, while some have been saddled with bills of up to £160,000 to fix the issue.

The Association of Residential Managing Agent estimates some 650,000 people in the UK are living in flats with dangerous cladding.

Labour has called for a national taskforce to “get a grip” and said leaseholders should be protected from the cost of replacing dangerous cladding on homes.

Last week Tory politicians also aired their dissatisfaction with the government over its provisions for leaseholders, with Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland saying the government had been “incompetent” in its response ahead of a vote demanding action.

All 365 Conservative MPs abstained on the largely symbolic motion tabled by the Labour Party on the order of the whips, however several spoke out in the debate to argue homeowners should not have to shoulder the financial burden.

Among their concerns were reports companies that own buildings would be given government loans to remedy the issue and the cost would then be handed down to residents through service charges.

“I will not accept loans to leaseholders”, Mr McPartland added. “If the government announces that, I will not accept it, I will vote against it. We cannot have leaseholders paying mortgages of £150,000 which is 90 per cent and then maybe having to pay a loan on top of £75,000.”

It comes as the chief lawyer in the Grenfell Inquiry said three witnesses from a company that produced the tower’s cladding were refusing to give evidence.

Gwenaelle Derrendinger and Claude Wehrle, both French residents, along with Peter Froehlich, based in Germany, have all claimed they will risk prosecution in France if they speak to the inquiry.

The three were employed by Arconic, the manufacturer that sold the rain screen panels that were used on the tower block when it caught fire in 2017, killing 72 people.

Speaking at the start of Tuesday’s session, Richard Millett QC said: “Each of these witnesses has been given a final chance to decide whether or not to come to give evidence to the inquiry.

“They still refuse to come to assist you, I regret to say.”

Mr Millett said their refusal cites the so-called French Blocking Statute (FBS), which bans people from disclosing documents or information of an economic, commercial, industrial, financial or technical nature with a view to establishing evidence in foreign judicial or administrative proceedings.

However, reading from a note received by the inquiry in December, Mr Millett said the French authorities “do not share the position” that the stature would stand in the way of the three attending the inquiry.

Mr Millett went on: “Since this inquiry is not a court, and cannot determine a person’s civil or criminal liability, it appears to the inquiry to be very doubtful that the FBS has any application to any evidence given to the inquiry.”

He added: “The inquiry’s position is that the refusal of these witnesses to come and give evidence is unreasonable.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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