Campaigners warn over cladding threat to high-rise blocks

High-rise residents called on the Government to immediately remove unsafe cladding from blocks across the country while ensuring they are kept safe from fire and the cold this winter.

Dozens of campaigners and social housing tenants gathered outside the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on Wednesday.

Fuel Poverty Action said the Government’s commitment to fully fund the replacement of flammable cladding on more than 150 social housing tower blocks was “not nearly enough”, urging it to remedy its so-far “disgraceful” record.

The group is asking for measures to ensure residents are not illegally left in danger from cold during the months or years before cladding is replaced, and guarantees that residents will not have to pay extra to keep their homes warm.

A letter, signed by more than 100 groups and individuals, was delivered to Communities Secretary James Brokenshire as demonstrators chanted outside his department.

Signatories include Sian Berry, co leader of the Green party; Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), and tenants from housing estates containing blocks with flammable cladding across the country.

It reads: “Cold, like fire, kills. Even in a normal year, thousands die each year when they cannot heat their homes.

“Residents in many blocks already going through re-cladding know that when cladding is off in the winter, uninsulated flats are places of constant cold, condensation, damp and mould, and astronomical bills.

“Works can go on for months, with families constantly ill. Some are scheduled for nearly two years.”

Tower block fire in London
Tower block fire in London

Ruth London, from Fuel Poverty Action said: “We now have a good basis from which to challenge not only the Government’s refusal to introduce a comprehensive retrospective ban on combustible cladding, but the slow, and often indifferent or even hostile response of housing providers when residents make complaints about the factors that are putting them in danger.

“These factors range from cladding to fire doors, from damp and mould to leaky windows, from repairs left undone to lack of space for tenants and residents to meet.”

She said it was “utterly unacceptable” that people were still living in buildings with flammable cladding, 16 months after Grenfell.

Just 32 out of 468 high-rise buildings with Grenfell-style cladding have had the material completely removed, according to Government figures.

The latest building safety data from MHCLG shows that 22 out of 159 social housing residential blocks, and 10 out of 295 private sector buildings have had works completed.

Some 62% of social housing blocks (99) are currently having their cladding removed and replaced.

In an announcement made while demonstrators gathered outside, the Government said it had started distributing an estimated £400 million to remove and replace unsafe material on social high-rise blocks.

Twelve local authorities and 31 housing associations have been allocated the money, which the Government says will help them to “get on with the job of making their buildings safe without having an impact on other vital services”.

The Grenfell Tower blaze broke out on June 14 2017 and claimed 72 lives.

Miriam Binder, from the group Disabled People Against Cuts, said she had fought for years to have an adapted, ground floor flat in Brighton.

She said she battled with the local authority, which offered her flats on the fifth, sixth and eighth floor of blocks.

Speaking from her wheelchair, the 62-year-old told demonstrators: “If you cannot keep your house warm, if you cannot keep your house safe, what is there?

“I’m sorry, I cannot understand why there is such a big issue about safeguarding our people in our homes here in England in 2018, it’s absolutely and totally barbaric.”