Thousands of people will be stuck living in potentially deadly tower blocks until 2030 because of the “glacial” pace at which the government is removing highly flammable materials in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, new analysis suggests.
Ministers are set to miss their target by almost a decade after efforts to remove the deadly materials appeared to stall.
Currently an average of just 4.75 residential blocks a month are having the flammable material removed, out of a total of 334 that were found to contain it.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) condemned the “simply shameful” rate at which the lethal cladding is being removed and accused the government of a “half-hearted approach to public safety”.
Of the 334 residential blocks covered in aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding – the type used on Grenfell Tower – only 69 have so far had the material removed.
At the current rate, it would take until May 2030 for the work to be completed – almost a decade after the government’s deadline of June 2020.
Last month, not a single residential tower block had deadly cladding removed. This suggests remediation efforts have stalled.
More than 50,000 people are estimated to still be living in buildings that have been deemed as unsafe.
The latest revelation came after the government admitted that the scale of the cladding crisis is much bigger than first thought.
It had long been known that ACM panels were unsafe for use on highrise buildings, but on Thursday ministers announced that a second type of cladding had also been found to be highly flammable.
It is not known how many blocks are covered in the second type of panel, called high-pressure laminate (HPL), but hundreds more buildings are likely to be affected.
Advice issued by the government said that “action to remediate unsafe HPL systems should be carried out as soon as possible”.
Further suspect types of cladding have yet to be tested, suggesting the problem could be greater still.
Ministers announced this week that they wanted to see ACM cladding removed from all social sector buildings by December 2019 and all private sector buildings by June 2020.
Currently just 1.25 private sector residential blocks on average are having ACM cladding removed each month, compared to an average of 3.5 for social sector blocks.
This suggests that, at the current rate, the social sector work will only be completed in December 2021, and the private sector work not until May 2030.
Facing pressure to do more to speed up the removal of dangerous materials, the government announced a £200m fund earlier this year to help private building owners remove ACM cladding, but critics said the money would not go far enough.
As well as setting the new targets, James Brokenshire, the housing secretary, has said the government is considering punishing private block owners who are still refusing to take the cladding down after the end of this year.
Labour said private blocks should be “confiscated” if owners refuse to comply and called on the government to do more to support owners who are struggling to cover the costs of removing the materials.
Sarah Jones, the party’s shadow housing minister, said: “The government has at long last set a deadline to remove ACM cladding, but at the current pace of work they will miss that target by a whole decade.
“Ministers need to step in and help councils who are struggling to get this work done promptly. And they must clarify what enforcement action they will take against private block owners who fail to make their buildings safe. Labour has been clear that sanctions should include confiscation of blocks where necessary.
“We now know that ACM is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cladding scandal. Now the government has admitted HPL cladding is deadly, we urgently need answers on how many more buildings are covered in flammable materials and how quickly it will be removed.”
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said: “The glacial speed of progress removing the very same flammable cladding as was on Grenfell Tower is simply shameful. To see so little progress removing dangerous cladding over the last month sums up the government’s half-hearted approach to public safety.
“Despite the government’s own tests proving that high-pressure laminate cladding is not safe, they have made no commitment to remediation work. It’s as though they are waiting to see another tragic loss of life before they will protect the thousands at risk from other forms of flammable cladding.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We expect all building owners, unless there are exceptional circumstances, to complete remediation within six months of agreeing a plan – by June 2020 – or they will face enforcement action.
“Owners are responsible for the safety of their buildings and it’s unacceptable if they are not moving quickly to remedy this problem – which is why the government has made £600m available to pay for remediation and remove cost as a barrier to progress.
“Ensuring the safety of residents still living in buildings with unsafe ACM cladding is a priority.”
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