Dear Secretary of State,
Since becoming the Member of Parliament for Vauxhall last December I have been made acutely aware of the devastating impact that the presence of dangerous cladding is having on many residents in my constituency.
The Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 brought to the forefront the extreme danger that certain types of cladding presents to residents in high rise, and we all agree on the need for this cladding to be removed and for measures to be taken to prevent a disaster like Grenfell from ever happening again. However, we are now over three years down the line and data from the Government’s Building Safety Programme shows that less than half of all identified buildings have had their dangerous cladding removed by the end of July, and nearly half of identified private sector buildings had not even started the process of remediation. This is despite a target set by your predecessor to complete the remediation process of identified buildings by June this year.
When it is residents’ homes and lives that are at stake from the continuous presence of this dangerous cladding it is clear that the process of remediation is moving far too slowly. Much more needs to be done to expedite the process of remediation, so could you outline the Government’s plans to take responsibility for making our homes safe and enact processes to speed up remediation? Furthermore, does the Government have a clear number as to how many buildings with high risk non-ACM combustible cladding will require remediation and does the Government have a deadline for this remediation to be completed?
Unfortunately, from the cases brought to me it is clear that the cost of this tardiness is too often falling on the shoulders of the residents, the tenants, the leaseholders and the shared ownership owners who all brought their properties in good faith and are not to blame for the presence of dangerous cladding on their homes.
The presence of dangerous cladding in residential blocks has meant that fire authorities are mandating interim fire safety measures when buildings are classed as unsafe. During the summer recess I held a call with a group of around 75 Vauxhall residents who were mandated a walking watch by fire authorities following an inspection. This will come at a high expense for the residents while they will face difficulties in moving and getting a mortgage as a result of the dangerous cladding on their building. It is unfair that residents are footing the bill for measures to counter a threat they played no part in creating while at the same time having no feasible route to move out of their property. Will the Government look into financial support for those facing these high cost interim measures so that the burden does not all fall on residents?
There has also been some level of inconsistency around the impact of building height on what funds are available for remediation and how tenants are experiencing the impact of dangerous cladding. The £1bn Building Safety Fund has been made available only to buildings above 18m, but one issue that has been raised with me is that those close to the 18m threshold are unsure as to how the height of their building should be measured. Would you be able to provide clarification as to how building heights should be measured so that potential applicants for support schemes and funds can know if they are eligible?
Many residents in buildings below 18m are experiencing both the drawbacks and dangers of flammable cladding. One area where this has had a particular effect is in the requirement of EWS1 forms. While EWS1 forms were designed to be applicable to buildings above 18m, I have been contacted by Vauxhall constituents living in blocks below 18m who have told me they have been severely hindered in efforts to move and remortgage as lenders are requesting that they have an EWS1 form. In response to complaints about the widening application of EWS1 forms, UK Finance, RICS and the BSA have noted that the Government’s Advice note of January 2020 said:
‘The need to assess and manage the risk of external fire spread applies to buildings of any height’
Many residents are caught off guard by a requirement that was not designed to be applied to them, and the need for a Chartered Fire Engineer to carry out a survey to obtain an EWS1 form means obtaining one can be a long and expensive process that leaves people’s lives on hold for years. The lack of Chartered Fire Engineers and the increasing scope being applied to who needs an EWS1 form means the process simply isn’t working and needs urgent attention, will the Government reform the EWS1 process to prevent the current and future backlogs? If the Government intends to bring in reform in the upcoming Building Safety Bill, will the you outline the timetable for when this Bill will come before the house so that my constituents have some indication as to when they can expect to have a solution to their problems?
My constituents cannot be blamed for having homes covered in dangerous cladding, yet they are far too often the ones bearing the brunt of the consequences of this and feel that their voice isn’t being heard by the Government. Would you be willing to come and visit affected residents in Vauxhall and hear the problems they are having with dangerous cladding first-hand?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Florence Eshalomi MP
Member of Parliament for Vauxhall