First legal action taken against UK high rise building to remove dangerous cladding
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Since the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire in the UK, where 72 people lost their lives, hundreds more tall buildings have been identified with dangerous surface cladding. For the first time, legal action has now been taken by the UK government against a holding company to replace dangerous cladding.
Cover photo (Above): Photo shows cladding being removed from a set of high-rise flats in Aberdeen at Bayview Court, 4 August 2017. Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons License.
In June 2017, a fire broke out in the Grenfell Tower block in west London, which killed 72 people who for various reasons could not be safely evacuated out of their apartments.
Since then, an ongoing argument has been going on in the UK over the urgent need to fix other buildings with the same cladding, or similarly combustible, surface materials - and in some cases numerous other safety issues discovered during safety inspections.
The controversy has been who should carry the costs of removing and replacing the dangerous cladding. Fire inspections have also in many cases revealed the need for correcting other safety issues, which is a difficult liability issue after-the-fact, especially in cases where the buildings have changed ownership. In many cases of failed inspections, materials used had at one point been approved for fire safety, and the industry has argued that the costs for replacing the dangerous cladding therefor should fall on the public.
The UK government has argued that developers always should be held responsible for the safety of their construction projects, and while individual companies may not always be reasonably held liable, there has been many arguments made as to why the industry should carry these costs, rather than the taxpayers.
In the last two years, the UK government has taken measures in favour of putting the costs on the construction industry as a whole, though levies and communal corporate fees.
Timeline since the Grenfell Tower fire
This article contains a timeline of important events leading up to the recent UK government decision to hold the construction industry liable for replacing dangerous cladding, with the most recent event, the October 2022 legal action against a UK holding company to replace all dangerous cladding at their expense.
2017: The Grenfell Tower fire sparks heated debate about costs for replacing dangerous cladding
In a June 13 "Explainer Article", the BBC briefly summed up what dangerous cladding is, the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the inquiry which followed.
Many other buildings found to have similar, dangerous cladding
Safety inspections found that there were hundreds of other buildings with the same, or similar cladding, as Grenfell Tower. The inspections also found other safety problems in many buildings, from defective insulation to flammable balconies and missing fire breaks.
2017 and ongoing: CTIF UK involved in evaluating dangerous cladding on high rise building
The CTIF National Committee of UK has been directly involved in the work of evaluating surface cladding on tall buildings since the Grenfell Tower fire, primarily through the work of the Fire Sector Federation´s Executive officer Dennis Davis, who is also a Senior Adviser to the CTIF International Association of Fire Services, and a former CTIF International vice president.
Dennis Davies was called upon as a witness to the Grenfell Inquiry, which is now preparing its final report:
"Daily we are assisting government and others with legislative change new guidelines and actions to improve competency especially on fire risk assessment", he said to CTIF News in October 2022.
2020 Court testimony: "Fire tests for cladding used on Grenfell Tower were fake"
In November 2020, an ex-employee of the company Celotex, who supplied the styrofoam cladding to Grenfell Tower, testified in court that the fire tests for the cladding had been rigged:
"Jonathan Roper, an ex-assistant product manager at insulation maker Celotex, gave evidence in the British court on Monday November 16. He had been part of the fire tests, and said he had been asked to cover up the results", as CTIF News wrote on December 1, 2020, quoting an article in The Guardian.
2021: London Fire Brigade responds to fire in high rise with similar cladding as Grenfell
As CTIF.org wrote on the 17th of May, 2021, Emergency services responded to a high-rise in east London at around 9am on Friday May 7. The cladding was reportedly similar to that of Grenfell Tower, where 72 residents lost their lives in the infamous 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.
The London Fire Brigade (LFB) said around 125 firefighters and 25 fire engines responded to the fire.
38 adults and four children were treated at the scene by paramedics for shock and smoke inhalation. Two adults were sent to hospital for smoke inhalation. Reports say the cladding in the building was made of a similar material to Grenfell Tower.
Spring and Summer of 2022: UK government announces protection for homeowners
The UK Fire Sector Federation wrote on February 15, 2022 that "the government has announced what it describes as “tough new measures” that will force industry to pay to remove cladding and protect leaseholders from high cost:
"The plans are designed to make sure the industry pays to historical problems, freeing hundreds of thousands of innocent leaseholders from shouldering an unfair burden while also enforcing “a common-sense approach to avoid unnecessary work”.
In a June 13 article, the BBC wrote about how Housing Secretary Michael Gove promised in January 2022, that no leaseholder living in a building taller than 11 metres ( 36 feet) would have to personally face any costs for fixing cladding which had been identified as dangerous (combustible).
In April 2022, the UK government announced that large housing developers would be required to pay a minimum of 2 billion British Pounds to fix any buildings taller than 11 meters which they had a role in developing.
The building industry also committed to paying a further 3 billion British Pounds over 10 years through the Building Safety Levy, a tax charged on all new residential buildings in England.
UK Housing Secretary Michael Gove also warned companies who didn't sign up for paying that they could risk being blocked from performing construction work or selling new homes.
October 2022: First legal action taken against a high rise tower
On October 9th 2022, the UK government wrote a press release about the first legal action taken against the freeholder company for the Stevenage Vista Tower, a 15-storey tower block in Hertfordshire, UK.
The holding company was given 21 days to commit to replacing the dangerous cladding. The UK Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said that if work was not carried out an application would be made to the courts.
Levelling Up Secretary of State, Simon Clarke, said: "Enough is enough.... This legal action should act as a warning to the rest of industry's outliers - big and small.... Step up, follow your peers and make safe the buildings you own or legal action will be taken against you."
How many are affected by remaining dangerous cladding?
There are no entirely reliable numbers on how many buildings or people are affected dangerous cladding.
According to the BBC, the UK government claimed that by 30 November last year, 407 buildings had cladding removed, and 70 more projects were ongoing.
However these numbers only cover buildings that are over 18m tall ( 59 feet) and with exactly the type of cladding used on Grenfell Tower. The government does not keep regular statistics on other types of buildings.
About half a million people are living in a building with some form of unsafe cladding, the UK Association of Residential Managing Agents (ARMA) has claimed, according to the BBC.
Cover photo: Photo shows cladding being removed from a set of high-rise flats in Aberdeen at Bayview Court, 4 August 2017. Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons License.