UK govt vows billions for high-rise cladding removal after fire tragedy

By: AFP      Published: 10:00 PM, 10 Feb, 2021
UK govt vows billions for high-rise cladding removal after fire tragedy

The UK government said Wednesday it will provide billions of pounds more to remove combustible cladding from high-rise buildings, following criticism of inaction nearly four years after the deadly Grenfell Tower fire.

Housing minister Robert Jenrick said the government would make an additional £3.5 billion ($4.8 billion, 4 billion euros) available to strip the dangerous cladding on residential buildings of at least 18 metres or six storeys in England.

Meanwhile owners of flats in lower-rise blocks with unsafe material on them will be able to access a low-interest loan scheme to pay for its removal while lowering their costs.

Jenrick called the move "an unprecedented intervention", which follows growing pressure on ministers to act, more than three years on from the Grenfell tragedy.

The June 2017 high-rise blaze in west London killed 72 people, with an official report blaming highly combustible cladding fixed to the 24-storey block as the "principal reason" the fire spread.

The disaster, Britain's deadliest domestic fire since World War II, has left thousands of leaseholder owners of flats in other buildings stuck in perilous situations, unable to afford the removal of the cladding.

They have also faced other rising costs, from increased insurance premiums to, in some cases, having to pay for around-the-clock fire marshall patrols.

Meanwhile most have been unable to sell or rent their flats because mortgage providers are unwilling to lend on the properties or because of other resulting restrictions.

The government had previously pledged £1.6 billion to remove the most dangerous types of cladding, but has been pushed to go further by the flat owners, their advocates and opposition politicians.

"The exceptional intervention amounts to the largest ever government investment in building safety," Jenrick told lawmakers as he unveiled the new package in parliament.

However, it faced immediate pushback, including among ruling Conservatives, who said it left flat owners in lower-rise properties still unfairly facing huge bills.

Tory MP Stephen McPartland said on Twitter he was listening to Jenrick 's announcement "with my head in my hands wondering how he can have got this so wrong".

"It is a betrayal of millions of leaseholders. It is not good enough. It is shocking incompetence. It is clear the PM has to step in now," he added, referring to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Johnson's Press Secretary Allegra Stratton defended the package, urging critics to examine its details.

"We think that it will go a very long way towards addressing the immediate insecurity and distress that people find themselves in," she told reporters.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.