End Our Cladding Scandal in North Somerset

Cllr Huw James is the Chair of the North Somerset Housing Issues Group and sits on North Somerset Council's Adult services and housing policy and scrutiny panel. Find out more about Cladding and North Somerset on February 18, 2021 at 7pm - 8:30pm

Since the Grenfell Tower disaster in June 2017 there have been strengthened calls for greater protections for leaseholders and tenants who are currently living in blocks with Grenfell style cladding or blocks that were previously certified as compliant and safe but which now fail new standards after Grenfell. As Chair of North Somerset's Housing Issues Group, I am working with the council to ensure that North Somerset is proactive in assisting leaseholders and tenants affected locally.

In North Somerset, the majority of affected residents are currently based in Portishead, around the Portishead Marina Development - however, there may be more affected developments that the Council are just not aware of until the government guidelines change to affect smaller developments.

The current phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry is exploring and revealing the shortcomings of the regulatory system, confusion within the industry, and the deliberate acts to exploit that confusion that may have contributed to the current crisis. Throughout this, it has been made clear that the current system in place to identify and remediate cladding and fire safety issues, including dangerous cladding, is perilously slow, presenting significant safety risks and leaving thousands of leaseholders facing financial ruin.

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, stated in July 2020 that “the Government are clear that it is unacceptable for leaseholders to have to worry about the cost of fixing historic fire safety defects in their buildings that they did not cause”. However, during pre-legislative scrutiny of the forthcoming Building Safety Bill, the Government’s commitment shifted to protecting leaseholders from ‘unaffordable’ costs only.

Following a significant amount of public pressure, including lobbying from the LGA, the Government has made a total of £1.6 billion available towards the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding on high-rise residential buildings. This included the announcement of a £1 billion fund, to support the remediation of unsafe non-ACM cladding in buildings over 18 meters, in the March 2020 budget.

However, the £1 billion Building Safety Fund is nowhere near adequate to address the current issues. The Government itself estimates that the total costs of cladding remediation in 1700 affected buildings will be between £3 billion and £3.5 billion. This funding will be distributed on a first-come-first-served basis, rather than based on risk. There are concerns that this cut-off will see challenges by leaseholders, either through judicial review or legal challenge against landlords who did not apply quickly enough.

There are also concerns around exclusions from the fund: funding is limited to buildings above 18 metres, covers work started after March 2020 only and excludes council landlords unless ‘remediation costs threaten the financial viability of the provider of the Housing Revenue Account’. In addition, the fund will cover the costs of cladding remediation only, excluding any additional fire safety issues uncovered in the process of remediation. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee have estimated that all fire safety defects in buildings over 18 metres would cost up to £15 billion to remediate. This estimate does not include the 77,500 buildings between 11 and 18 metres.

Baroness Kath Pinnock is leading the House of Lords’ charge to ensure that no leaseholder or tenant has to cover the costs associated with living in a home deemed unsafe due to its cladding. In the House of Lords Baroness Pinnock’s amendment was passed to the Fire Safety Bill, supported by Liberal Democrat, Labour, Cross Bench and Green peers, none of the remediation costs should be met, leaseholders and tenants. This success means that the Government must respond by turning down the amendment or finding a compromise.

The building industry and the Government must take responsibility for their role in the long-term systemic failure that caused it. The first step towards this must be establishing a task force to take forward legal action against those responsible for the cladding crisis and commitment to a levy on the relevant parts of the building industry in the next budget. Attempts to make leaseholders carry the costs of repairing the thousands of affected buildings over 11m are not only unfair, but risk collapsing the housing market, hampering any post-covid economic recovery and will leave a widespread sense of injustice and significant mental health consequences for years to come. We must continue to highlight Government failure to tackle this crisis and push our communities to be protected and make sure they don’t have to pick up the bill for Government inaction.

I fully endorse the aims and objectives of the End our Cladding Scandal and UK Cladding Action Group campaigns, and I am working with local residents associations and fellow councillors to continue to put pressure on the Government and to push North Somerset Council to see what it can do to provide local-level support where possible.

Notes for editors:

If you are a journalist and would like further information about this press release, contact  Huw James via email - [email protected]

Motion: End our cladding and EWS1 scandal 

Council notes that:

  1. Following the human tragedy of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire taking 72 lives blamed on Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding, this has rightfully led to a focus on fire safety in buildings across the country.
  2. The Government banned the use of all combustible materials on the walls of new high rises in November 2018 (MHCLG, Government bans combustible materials on high-rise homes, 29 November 2018) meaning the problem has now extended beyond ACM cladding to buildings decorated with other materials that could be flammable - including balconies, and wooden panels. However, it did not legislate for building owners to take action or provide sufficient compensation funds to cover all situations.
  3. In parallel, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the UK Council of Mortgage Lenders agreed the industry External Wall System fire review and certification process resulting in what is known as an EWS1 form. Only circa 300 professional fire safety engineers nationally are qualified to issue these - creating a bottleneck across the country including in the West of England.
  4. In North Somerset, there are a significant number of low and mid-rise buildings. These are mostly limited to traditional builds, however there are a concentration of buildings with non-traditionally built dwellings – particularly around Portishead Marina.
  5. Without an EWS1 form, many lenders are now refusing to provide mortgages. As there is no Government legislation forcing owners to produce EWS1 forms or to take remedial action, many leaseholders are having to battle with owners whether their Local Authority, Housing Associations or private landlords. Remediation costs are also skyrocketing in the £100Ks and many owners are forcing this back on leaseholders via financially ruinous service charges – including impacting those in shared ownership.
  6. Subsequently, residents and leaseholders through no fault of their own are being left in potentially ruinous limbo unable to mortgage properties, re-mortgage and therefore unable to buy and sell.
  7. Additionally, residents are living in fear in homes with no idea if they are safe. This is fundamentally holding up people’s lives, costing our residents money they shouldn’t have to pay and leaving a huge mental health impact.

Council therefore calls on Executive to:

  1. Sign up the Council to the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign: [email protected].
  2. Continuing providing advice and support to provide assistance to all North Somerset residents associations regardless of housing tenure i.e. Council, Housing Association, Shared Ownership or private. The aim being to assist such resident associations in lobbying developers, building owners and claiming Government funds to urgently rectify their buildings. This support should be proactive rather than reactive.
  3. Work in partnership with the West of England Combined Authority and LEP to redeploy and upskill surveyors and suitable professionals as appropriate, in order to perform more EWS1 assessments. The aim being to accelerate remediation and certification. This may also have a longer-term benefit to increasing higher value job opportunities in North Somerset in partnership with Weston College’s Institute of Technology.
  4. Work in partnership with all local private building owners and Housing Associations to act immediately in rectifying issues and achieve EWS1 certification – noting that some of these owners may not be the original developer and therefore will need the Council’s assistance to engage and trace such developers or other routes to remedy to avoid any cost to their Leaseholders.
  5. Explore ways to delay approving planning applications from developers where the applicant has outstanding snagging or EWS1 certification issues in North Somerset and include a condition to be discharged on all future planning applications to provide an EWS1 form before first occupation.
  6. Explore ways to expediate Planning Applications, Support, and a Design Guide for communities effected by ESW1 forms and cladding issues.
  7. Lobby and work with the MPs, Ministry of Housing Community and Local Government to:
    1. Devolve powers to local authorities like North Somerset in order to have jurisdiction over enforcing remediation of housing of all tenures and to target relevant compensation funds from Central Government to where it can actively support affected residents best.
    2. Adopt the sensible recommendations of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committeethat the EWS1 process could be reformed to urgently revise and implement a process (at no cost to leaseholders) that offers clarity to lenders, insurers and peace of mind for homeowners and buyers to re-instate re-mortgaging and property sales provided there is no immediate danger.
    3. Adopt the 10 asks of the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign.

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