THE Government has agreed to foot the £200-million bill for remedial work on 170 tower blocks in the UK clad with the same “dangerous” materials which contributed to the deaths of 72 people in the Grenfell Tower fire, after pressure from bishops and campaigners.
The Bishops of Kensington and Manchester, Dr Graham Tomlin and Dr David Walker, were among the figures campaigning for the Government to end the deadlock over who paid for the work, which they said was leaving residents stranded in unsafe tower blocks.
The Secretary for Communities, Housing, and Local Government, James Brokenshire, had previously said that taxpayers should not have to pay to replace the now-banned aluminium composite material (AMC) cladding because it was the responsibility of the owners.
His position sparked the campaign End Our Cladding Scandal. The group, which includes the bishops, members of the residents’ group Grenfell United, housing professionals, MPs, and fire safety experts, were due to deliver an open letter to the Mr Brokenshire, on Thursday.
It warned: “Of the 176 private residential towers found to have dangerous ACM cladding, remediation work has completed on just ten. Flats in these towers are close to worthless, making it impossible to sell and leaving residents trapped.
“This leaves tens of thousands of leaseholders and private tenants facing the mental trauma of sleeping each night with the fear of a devastating fire. And this number will only grow as blocks with other forms of dangerous cladding are discovered.”
The letter was withdrawn after Mr Brokenshire’s U-turn early on Thursday. He said: “Although temporary measures are in place to ensure people living in these buildings are safe, too many owners are treating this as a permanent fix. Others are trying to pass on the costs to residents by threatening them with bills running to thousands of pounds.
“While some building owners have been swift to act, and I thank them for doing the right thing, I am now calling time on the delay tactics of others. If these reckless building owners won’t act, the Government will.”
Supporting the announcement, the Prime Minister said that it was “of paramount importance” that people were safe, and felt safe, in their homes.
Dr Tomlin, who has been supporting Grenfell survivors and families, said: “Many leaseholders across the country are living in residential blocks that are covered in cladding like that which contributed to the fire at Grenfell Tower. They were increasingly being asked to foot the bill for its removal. They were caught between a bill they cannot pay (sometimes the amount asked for is up to £80,000) and the fear of living in a home which is vulnerable to what happened at Grenfell.
“I’m very pleased that the Government has decided to act on this now, although there is more work to do, as the money offered probably won’t cover all the blocks that needs cladding removed.”
Dr Walker agreed: “This will come as an enormous relief to households who have been facing bills of tens of thousands of pounds to rectify cladding problems, and are living in homes that are practically impossible to get a mortgage on. It is important that work now gets underway very rapidly.
“Other major fire risks apart from ACM cladding remain unaddressed; residents in those blocks may not be helped by this announcement. I would urge government to continue the dialogue with the residents’ groups until all our homes are safe.”