‘Taxpayer should not fund removal of Grenfell-type cladding from private blocks’

Taxpayers should not fund the replacement of Grenfell-style cladding from private tower blocks, a Conservative peer said as the Government announced that it would pay an estimated £200 million to ensure tenants’ safety.

The money will be made available to remove aluminium composite material cladding from around 170 privately-owned high-rise buildings across the UK, the Ministry of Housing said.

It comes after almost two years of inaction from some building owners branded “reckless” by Communities Secretary James Brokenshire for trying to make leaseholders foot the bill.

The announcement is a row-back on plans previously announced by the Government to compel building owners to foot the bill through financial penalties and exclusion from Government house-building schemes.

Campaigners said the news was welcome but that they should not have had to fight for so long to get the material removed.

The UK Cladding Action Group said the Government’s “inadequate” response would create a “cladding lottery”, with tenants in blocks clad with other unsafe material “excluded” from the help.

Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association, said the announcement would come as an “enormous relief” to leaseholders but that it would be wrong if taxpayers ended up out of pocket.

The funds will be released to building owners on the condition that they take “reasonable steps” to recover the costs from those responsible for the cladding’s presence, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has said.

Lord Porter said: “Reputable developers have done the right thing and paid for buildings to be fixed, but it would be wrong if the taxpayer had to pay the bills of those developers and contractors who are responsible for this crisis.

“It is therefore right that, while the Government has committed to cover the cost temporarily, it has also said it will do everything in its power to ensure those responsible for the installation of unsafe cladding and insulation on their buildings, or indeed their insurers, eventually pay the full cost for its removal and replacement.”

The campaign to see the material stripped from all residential blocks has won support from celebrities including singer Adele and rapper Stormzy.

Latest Government figures show that 166 private buildings out of 176 identified with the cladding after the fire in June 2017 have yet to start removing the material.

Developers and building owners, including Pemberstone, Aberdeen Asset Management, Barratt Developments, Fraser Properties, Legal & General, Mace and Peabody, were highlighted as having fully borne the costs for their buildings.

The Government has already committed to funding replacement of the cladding in the social sector. Currently 23 blocks are still covered in it.

Announcing the news, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “It is of paramount importance that everybody is able to feel and be safe in their homes.

“That’s why we asked building owners in the private sector to take action and make sure appropriate safety measures were in place.

“And we’ve seen a number of private building owners doing the right thing and taking responsibility, but unfortunately too many are continuing to pass on the costs of removal and replacement to leaseholders.

“Today I can confirm we will now be fully funding the replacement of cladding on high-rise private residential buildings so residents can feel confident they are secure in their homes.”

But the UK Cladding Action Group said fire “does not distinguish between the different types of failed cladding out there”.

A spokeswoman said: “This inadequate response will be looked back on in shame when the next Grenfell tragedy occurs.

“The announcement effectively brands this as a cladding lottery. Life-changing sums are still being demanded for interim fire measures. Some people win from today’s announcement, but many still lose. All are mortgage prisoners.”

Grenfell United said: “This result is a testament to residents themselves, in social and private blocks, who refused to be ignored. The truth is we should never have had to fight for it.

“It is not a quick fix so we ask the Government to also consider what financial support can be put in place while residents continue with night watches and wait for remediation works to start.”

Building owners will have three months to claim the funds and will be able to register by early July.