Government 'risks second Grenfell with inaction on cladding in private sector'


A "lack of leadership" on the removal of unsafe cladding from private blocks risks a second Grenfell Tower, ministers have been told.

While remedial work on almost 100 blocks in the social sector has begun, many private sector leaseholders have been left with "unaffordable bills" to remove cladding.

Housing Secretary Sajid Javid has stopped short of taking action in the private sector, saying private landlords had a "moral duty" to pay for the cost of removing and replacing the cladding.

The situation has led MPs from all parties to call on the Government to step in and resolve the matter "without further delay".

Labour MP Steve Reed (Croydon North), who secured a Westminster Hall debate on the issue, said: "Every single loophole and error that led to Lakanal House and Grenfell Tower is still in place today, this is no-one else's fault, no-one else's moral responsibility except the Government's.

"Thousands of frightened people living in blocks with flammable cladding need to hear from the minister today that it will be taken down without further delay, they don't need anymore buck-passing.

"They cannot afford to spend years in the courts while this cladding remains on their buildings. The Government's flawed fire safety regimen created this mess, the Government must now clear it up.

"We cannot risk a second Grenfell Tower, it is time for the minister to act."

In all, some 301 out of 314 buildings over 18 metres with aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding are unlikely to meet current building regulations guidance and pose fire hazards, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said.

More than half, 158, are social housing blocks, managed by either local authorities or housing associations - with the remainder being private blocks.

Tower block fire in London
Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid has said private owners have a 'moral duty' to act (PA)

Labour MP Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) said the Government should be responsible for funding the replacement of cladding and by not doing so, it was "showing a lack of leadership and a lack of responsibility".

Tory former planning minister Bob Neill later argued that while owners did have a moral duty to act, that duty was not "legally enforceable" and many tenants had now been left in a situation where their "asset had turned into a liability".

He added: "If there was a failure of regulation, whoever was the government at the time, it's a failure of governance.

"Therefore, ultimately I would suggest Government needs to stand behind this, rather than expecting that to be picked up by individuals who have done nothing whatsoever and have no control whatsoever over what has happened."

Labour's housing spokesman Tony Lloyd later echoed this point, telling the Government bench that "moral rectitude won't stand up in court" and "moral rectitude won't pay the leaseholders' bills".

Housing minister Dominic Raab, responding to the debate on behalf of the Government, said that it was "absolutely committed to learning the lessons of Grenfell".

He added: "As soon as we're notified of buildings with potentially unsafe cladding, we work with the owners, work with the relevant fire and rescue service. Our number one priority is the safety of residents."

However, Mr Raab offered little more to MPs calling for action in the private sector, saying it was a matter for the courts.

He said: "In the private sector of course the allocation of responsibility depends on the terms of the leasehold arrangements as qualified by general law.

"The determining of the legal position will need to be obviously ultimately settled by a court."

He added: "We do continue to urge those with responsibility to follow the lead from the social sector."