PMQs have generated nothing but quarrels in recent weeks so Theresa May’s announcement that the government will pay for unsafe cladding to be stripped off tower blocks and replaced is a happy exception.
For more than six months Shelter has been calling on the government to step up to the plate, and on Wednesday the Prime Minister did. When so many political announcements are intentionally vague, the commitment that the work will be ‘fully funded’ is also brilliantly clear.
This new emergency funding will eventually help many more social tenants – in both housing associations and council housing – to sleep soundly at night in the knowledge their building is finally safe. Fewer social landlords will now be forced to make impossible decisions about what else to cut from already overstretched budgets – like funding the upkeep of existing homes and the building of new ones – to pay for the safety works.
It became obvious pretty quickly after the Grenfell Tower fire that something had gone seriously wrong with the building’s cladding and insulation. Fire is not supposed to be able to spread over cladding. Insulation is not supposed to set alight intensifying the fire. But it looked like both had happened. Further evidence since, such as a leaked report which was part of the police investigation, has only added to the sense unsafe cladding and insulation were major contributors to this tragedy.
Initially, it was easy to imagine that the construction problems with the Grenfell Tower were a terrible anomaly. But in the following weeks it became frighteningly clear that the use of unsafe cladding and insulation on tall buildings is widespread.
At the end of July last year, almost 200 other council and housing association tower blocks had been identified as being wrapped in similarly combustible building materials. In the ten months since, an increasing number of privately-owned blocks have been added to the list.
In total, more than 300 tower blocks are known to have Grenfell-style cladding across the country. Although we don’t know exactly how many people live in these blocks, it’s inevitable that the number is in the thousands. Despite these worrying numbers, according to the government’s own figures only seven of the 189 social tower blocks – less than 4% – ever had their cladding entirely replaced.
Temporary measures have been taken to make sure all the identified blocks …