Hackney has the second highest number of tower blocks with fire safety defects with only the borough of Tower Hamlets exceeding it according to new figures published last week.
The London Fire Brigade revealed last month that there are still more than 1,000 buildings in London that require residents to evacuate the building in the event of a fire rather than stay put, due to issues such as flammable cladding (like that used on Grenfell Tower). Tower Hamlets and Hackney together account for almost a quarter of the buildings with fire safety failures in London.
A letter from Labour Assembly Member Anne Clarke last week to the mayor of London Sadiq Khan revealed 162 unsafe buildings were situated in Tower Hamlets, while Hackney had 82 that had been placed on simultaneous evacuation orders.
Most unsafe buildings in Hackney are high-rise blocks above 18 metres, at 72 buildings. The situation is similar across each of the top five boroughs impacted by the building safety crisis.
On October 27 the chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a £5bn grant to remove unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings within the autumn budget, funded by property developers. No mention was made of buildings with potentially unsafe cladding below 18 metres, where thousands of leaseholders remain unable to sell their homes. Campaigners branded the announcement “a slap in the face”.
Hackney Councillor Sem Moema, mayoral adviser for Private Renting and Housing Affordability, said: “The autumn budget provided no new funding to address the cladding scandal, with the government’s commitments so far only covering a third of the estimated £15bn cost – showing that ministers have still not grasped the extent of the problem, let alone understood how to fix it.”
Occupants in dangerous buildings have resorted to measures such as a waking watch or the average fire alert- methods introduced in emergency precaution after the tragedy of Grenfell Tower in 2017. Some of the buildings are considered so high risk that they require suitably trained persons patrol to carry out the correct evacuations.
Only 14 grants from the government’s £30 million Waking Watch Relief Fund have been paid out in London, totalling less than £1.7 million.
The fund was introduced in December 2020 to cover the cost of replacing waking watches with fire alarm systems in buildings that have fire safety defects.
Waking watches were set up during the after fall of the Grenfell Tower fire and consist of 24-hour patrols of buildings that have such fire safety defects to warn residents on occasion of a fire and coordinate evacuations safely.
London pays more on average for waking watches than anywhere else in the UK- with a mean cost of £20,443 per building per month compared to the average of £15,279 elsewhere.
Since the Waking Watch Relief Fund was founded last year, City Hall was allocated £16.1m, placing it in charge of administrating the claims across London. But despite over one hundred applications for the fund having been made (with 72 so far being approved) only 14 payments have actually been made as of November 1.
The figures follow widespread concern among those living in unsafe buildings earlier this year, when the government failed to pass legislation that protected them for liability for re-cladding costs.
Since the data was published, 47 more buildings have had the same evacuation measures put in after similar fire safety defects were discovered- totalling 1,053 buildings in London.
Of that total, 214 buildings are under 18 metres in height which means leaseholders and tenants are ineligible to apply for funding from the Government’s £5bn Building Safety Fund or the £30 million Waking Watch Relief Fund.
Khan has previously said that he will “continue to advocate for leaseholders, who in no circumstances should have to pay for the cost of remedial or interim measures”.
He said: “While funding for remediation should be forthcoming from developers themselves, as I have long called for, a more strategic approach is required to tackle the scale of the building safety crisis. In December 2020 I called for the introduction of a developer levy to pay for cladding remediation and other building safety work.”