Government warned of another Grenfell-type disaster as 60,000 people still living in buildings covered in same flammable material

Exclusive: Only 2 in 10 high-rise buildings have had dangerous cladding removed two years on from west London fire

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Thursday 06 June 2019 13:44
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Almost 60,000 people are still living in tower blocks covered in the highly flammable material that was used on Grenfell Tower, two years on from the blaze at the west London block, new figures have revealed.

There are 24,800 homes in high-rise blocks that are still covered in Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding that is “unlikely to meet building regulations”, ministers admitted.

The ACM panels were widely blamed as one cause of the rapid spread of the fire at Grenfell, which killed 72 people, and have since been banned by the government.

But ministers have been criticised over the pace at which the material is being removed from the buildings, with more than eight in 10 yet to have the cladding taken down – a figure that rises to more than nine in 10 for privately-owned blocks.

Ahead of the second anniversary of the Grenfell fire next week, Labour warned that the failure to remove the cladding from other buildings meant “the risk of such a tragedy being repeated is still far too high”.

About 16,400 homes in privately-owned buildings and 8,400 in the social housing sector are in blocks still covered in ACM cladding, according to the ministry of housing, communities and local government. The average household size in the UK is 2.4 people, suggesting 59,520 people are living in these buildings.

The homes are in 272 different buildings, of which 164 are privately owned and 108 are social housing.

MPs will debate the Grenfell tragedy in the House of Commons on Thursday ahead of the two-year anniversary of the fire.

Ahead of the debate, Labour’s shadow housing minister, Sarah Jones, wrote to James Brokenshire, the housing secretary, to demand that ministers set a deadline for the removal of dangerous cladding from high-rise buildings.

In the letter, seen by The Independent, she said: “As we approach the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, the risk of such a tragedy being repeated is still far too high.

“Almost 60,000 people are still living in buildings wrapped with deadly ACM cladding. Countless more may unknowingly be living in dangerous buildings covered in ‘non-ACM’ flammable materials as your department has still not properly tested suspect cladding of this type. Progress has been too slow at every stage, lives are at stake, and we must do better.

“I am concerned that the government sees the latest fund as a panacea to the cladding scandal. But this is not the end – it is the start of a large body of work which should have been completed long ago. What’s more, important questions remain unanswered.”

Last month, the government bowed to pressure from MPs and campaigners and agreed to provide £200m to help with the removal of ACM cladding from privately-owned buildings. It had previously only allocated money for work on social housing blocks.

Ms Jones said ministers should now agree to fund the removal of other types of cladding that could be just as flammable. The government began testing non-ACM cladding last month but has been criticised for opting for a less comprehensive type of test than the one that was applied to ACM panels in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.

She also called for building owners who refuse to take down cladding that has failed safety tests to face tougher punishments.

A Ministry of Housing spokesperson said: “There is nothing more important than making sure people are safe in their homes.

“That is why we have committed up to £600m to fund the removal and replacement of unsafe ACM cladding on high-rise social and private residential buildings.

“We have been clear that there are no more excuses and we expect buildings to be remediated as quickly as possible. We are backing local authorities to take enforcement action where building owners are refusing to remediate high-rise buildings with unsafe ACM cladding.”

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