Nearly four years after the tragedy of Grenfell, over 400 high rise buildings in Croydon, Hackney, Lewisham and Tower Hamlets are still affected by dangerous cladding.
Lockdown measures now mean that residents in the four Eastlondonlines Boroughs are trapped in unsafe housing.
The lingering cladding crisis in London also forces residents in high rise buildings to rely on expensive “waking watches” to give a warning if a fire breaks out.
Many across East London have not passed the ESW1 form either, a fire risk assessment for multi-storey buildings, rendering their property virtually worthless.
Government fund to fix cladding
This week, following a debate in parliament, the government has announced support to fix these buildings.
Housing secretary, Robert Jenrick has allocated £3.5 billion to remove flammable cladding from high rise towers.
The plans, however, have faced mounting criticism with many saying that they do not go far enough.
There is limited support for buildings under 18 metres and those living in buildings between 11 and 18 metres may be met with bills of £50 per month for unsafe cladding removal.
Leaseholders also face hidden costs and many already struggle with the inability to sell or mortgage their property due to other fire safety issues.
In the House of Commons on February 10, Robert Jenerick said in response to MPs: “It is a balance between the interests of leaseholders and those of the broader taxpayer…I share the anger of leaseholders at those mistakes that have been made, both those by the industry and by regulators who came before us.
“What we must do now as a government is move forward, make sure this never happens again, and support leaseholders as much as we practically can do.”
Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding was immediately identified as one of the contributing factors for the rapid fire spread across the outside of the Grenfell building in June 2017. According to the government’s expert panel following the fire, buildings over 18 metres with ACM and unmodified polyethylene filler with any type of insulation is a fire hazard and should be replaced immediately.
Now in 2021, there are 14 organisations yet to even begin work to make cladding safe on their buildings.
Latest estimates show that the national figure of residents affected by the cladding crisis is 760,000.
Latest government statistics show that Tower Hamlets has the highest number of high-rise buildings with dangerous cladding across all of England. Tower Hamlets has 293 buildings registered for the Building Safety Fund to fix unsafe cladding as of February 5, 2021.
The data shows that the borough has over 20 buildings with dangerous ACM cladding systems. Less than half of these have a completed remediation status.
Despite a three-year investment of £6 million for fire safety for council-owned blocks in the borough Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs said: “Our powers are limited when it comes to private blocks and for them, the situation remains uncertain.”
Last year, Biggs said: “Developers have been reluctant to step in and meet costs as they wait to see if the government will provide funding.”
The latest announcement of the government package was welcomed by the mayor but he expressed concerns over leaseholders being saddled with debt and neglect for fire safety issues other than cladding.
In a list published by Lewisham Council, flammable ACM cladding was identified on Hatfield Close and two blocks of Gerrard House. Lewisham Homes are still in the process of removing and installing new cladding on these three tower blocks.
Janet Darby, MP for Lewisham East, said in an online video: “What my constituents want to hear is clear timescales for this remedial work, as it has now been nearly 4 years since so many lives were lost in the Grenfell fire. Leaseholders need reassurance they will not have to wait another 4 years.”
34 dangerous buildings in Lewisham are currently covered by the Building Safety Fund which includes unsafe non-ACM cladding systems.
Victoria Lowe, who lives in a shared ownership flat with her partner and two young children in Lewisham told The Guardian of her constant fear and failed attempts to sell the flat. It has proved unsuccessful due to High-Pressure Laminate cladding making it in effect unsellable.
Government statistics for buildings identified with ACM cladding as of January 31, 2021, in Hackney was found to be between 11 and 20 buildings with no specific number available.
Hackney council said last year that they do not own any buildings with cladding that needed replacing but were investing in new insulation for older buildings to bring up fire safety standards.
Three towers at Lincoln Court, two at Hugh Gaitskell House, Seaton Point and the Nye Bevan estate were invested in to bring the buildings in line with regulations.
Councillor Sem Moema, Mayoral Advisor for Private Renting and Housing Affordability said: “Elsewhere in the borough we’ve seen too many people face astronomical bills for fire safety work, trapped in homes they cannot sell or remortgage, and raising serious issues about their safety where they live.
“The longer this goes on the more stress and uncertainty this scandal causes, which is why the government needs to take action now.”
Residents in private blocks in Hackney have been hit with extensive costs for waking watch patrols and remediation of potentially high-risk cladding along with other fire hazards.
The Millfield Estate Cladding Action Group emerged as a voice for leaseholders affected in Clapton.
The Mayor of Hackney, Philip Glanville said: “Ministers should not expect Hackney’s key workers to be spending their time off in a bureaucratic nightmare.
“These residents have a limited ability to fund the necessary remediation work or to engage in a drawn- out legal battle with building owners – especially at a time when they are risking their lives to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The government must require greater transparency about the ownership of buildings, materials used, and where liabilities are placed.”
Hackney has a total of 60 tower blocks registered to the fund for fire risk issues.
In 2018, the developer Barratt Homes promised £2million to cover work on its Citiscape development, a high rise block in Croydon which failed safety tests. This was after a high profile campaign led by Steve Reed MP for Croydon North.
Centrillion Point and two blocks of flats in Leaden Hill were revealed to have failed fire safety tests over three years ago.
Croydon has 36 buildings identified with fire risks that qualify for the Building safety fund. Included in this figure is the government data showing that Croydon still has between six and 10 buildings with the same dangerous ACM cladding as Grenfell Tower.
Pressure and Criticism
The Grenfell United pressure group said in a statement that Jenrick’s announcement was “too little too late.”
“We needed something to deal with this mess once and for all – we didn’t get that today.
“Residents living in unsafe homes will go to bed tonight worrying if their building will qualify or be left out once again.”
The hashtag ‘EndOurCladdingScandal’ has been trending in recent days. The campaign group has accused Conservative ministers of forcing millions into bankruptcy and encouraging supporters to write to their local MPs and sign petitions criticising the pitfalls of the announcement.
Labour’s shadow Housing Secretary, Thangam Debbonaire said: “If you bought a car and it was found to be dangerous, you wouldn’t be expected to take out a loan to mend it. And this is people’s homes.
“Across London, thousands of leaseholders have been paying eye-watering waking watch fees every month, on top of their mortgage, sky-rocketing insurance and service charges.
“They have had to endure months of lockdown in dangerous flats, with no chance of selling their properties while the Government has come forward with nothing but piecemeal, ineffective responses to a growing crisis.”
She added: “Unfortunately, these proposals will still leave too many people struggling and facing loans instead of being given justice.”