Three years on from the Grenfell Tower catastrophe, people are still living in hundreds of buildings that haven’t been stripped of dangerous cladding.
And despite the deaths of at least 72 people in the west London inferno, housing bosses are now pushing for construction rules to be relaxed.
The Tory government has spent less than a quarter of the promised money to replace dangerous cladding on social housing buildings.
“We continue to live in unsafe buildings every day this goes on,” said Ritu Saha from campaign group UK Cladding Action.
“You can’t sell, move or remortgage to raise extra money from these flats. The worst fallout is the impact on mental health,” she said.
The Tories boasted in May 2018 they would spend £400 million to strip buildings of the dangerous cladding material similar to the panels used in the west London blaze of June 2017.
Yet so far only £133 million has been spent doing exactly that, leaving more than half of the 154 dangerous blocks still in need of potentially lifesaving work.
A report from the National Audit Office, released this week, revealed that private buildings were also left at risk. Only £1.4 million had been spent fixing private blocks, out of an earmarked £200 million.
The public spending watchdog said it amounted to less than 1 percent of the funds set aside to fix buildings in England.
For those left in dangerous buildings, the past three years have been spent petrified of a disaster similar to Grenfell.
Some have been forced to pay for fire wardens to patrol the buildings and others report being unable to sell their properties and move on.
Part of the delay is because national government and private firms are quibbling over who is paying for refurbishments.
Rituparna Single lives in the Northpoint building in Bromley, south east London.
“We are incurring thousands of pounds per household in watch costs, massive increases in insurance and then there is the mental strain of not knowing when your block is going to be fixed,” she said.
Repairs are now expected to finish by mid-2022. That means residents and workers will have used unsafe buildings every day for five years from the Grenfell fire.
As residents leave in fear for their lives in dangerously fitted buildings, housing fat cats are leaning on the government to relax rules about cladding similar to that used at Grenfell.
Berkeley Homes boss Rob Perrins is pushing for companies to be given a freer rein to use the materials, arguing that they were “low risk”.
“There should be a risk based approach to the whole building,” he said.
The public inquiry has already identified the panels as the main cause for the rapid spread of the inferno through the tower.
Yet Berkeley is renovating 20 high rise buildings using the same type of cladding used in the Grenfell catastrophe.
Campaign group Grenfell United said, “In the week that we marked the anniversary of losing 72 loved ones—Berkeley Group is reminding us that profit still comes before safety for developers.”
And Matt Wrack, FBU union general secretary, blasted the construction firm as “utterly contemptible”.
“To suggest that the cladding responsible for that disaster is low risk—when research has shown it to be as flammable as petrol—shows the type of disregard for human life that led to the Grenfell tragedy happening in the first place,” he said.
The money is there to make buildings safe—it is the Tories’ contempt for ordinary people that puts them at risk of a catastrophe like Grenfell.
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