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Boris Johnson's "Commitment" To Ensuring A Grenfell Style Fire Never Happens Again Is Under Question

5 min read

Campaigners for safer cladding have hit out at the Prime Minister's claim that he is committed to making sure another Grenfell-style fire never happens again, arguing that there still hasn't been enough done by government to prevent further tragedy.

The fire that tore through the residential Grenfell Tower in West London in 2017 was the worst the country has seen since the Second World War and claimed the lives of 72 people – many of them children. 

On this week's fourth anniversary of the tragedy Boris Johnson tweeted that his "thoughts are with the survivors, the bereaved and the wider community affected by this devastating fire," and reiterated the government's commitment to "ensuring this never happens again".

But Johnson’s message was quickly seized upon by people challenging his “commitment”, pointing out that thousands of people are still living in high rises with potentially dangerous flammable cladding, similar to that which encased Grenfell Tower, and was key to the scale of destruction inflicted by the fire. 

Lucy Brown, of the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign, said we are yet to see the government's actions match Johnson's sombre words. 

“There have been zero criminal prosecutions, Grenfell survivors continue to live in temporary accommodation and millions of residents are still trapped in unsafe or potentially unsafe buildings," Brown told PoliticsHome. 

“We ask that Boris Johnson now backs up the promises made to the victims and survivors of Grenfell, and to residents all over the UK. We will hold him to account to ensure never again means never again.”

The government is directly funding the remediation works for all unsafe cladding in buildings over 18m tall at a cost of £5 billion. For buildings under that height, leaseholders will be able to take part in a government-backed finance scheme where any costs charged to them for making the buildings safe will cost no more than £50 a month.

Campaigners, however, strongly dispute that any leaseholder should have to pay the cost of buildings works for a home they bought in good faith. They also think the overall bill to fix the homes is £15 billion, far more than what the government has offered so far.

Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley, and father-of-the-house, has said repeatedly that those responsible, whether knowingly or not, are the developers, builders, landlords, building control, national regulators and component manufacturers – not leaseholders.

Bills have come in as high as £150,000 for some leaseholders in apartment blocks when they have been asked to pay to replace external cladding, wooden balconies and fix fire breaks. Even at a payback rate fixed at £50 a month, the flats can lose their value and become nearly impossible to sell.

Tory MP Stephen MacPartland, unsuccessfully campaigned to get full leaseholder protection into the Fire Safety Bill, and has been a harsh critic of his own party’s handling of the crisis.

He told PoliticsHome that four years on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the country is still in the midst of a “building safety crisis”.

He said: “Millions of leaseholders face the real threat of bankruptcy this year, as ministers have been asleep on the job. There is too much talk and not enough action.

“Leaseholders are screaming to be heard and we have to listen to the people who live in these flats, not keep telling them we have fixed the problem when we clearly have not!”

Aluminium composite material (ACM) which was used on Grenfell Tower was banned in the aftermath of the fire, though non-ACM cladding like high pressure laminate (HPL) panels still remain a serious risk to building safety. The Association of Residential Managing Agents (ARMA), has estimated that more than 500,000 people are effected by the cladding crisis.

Labour MP Hilary Benn has been another vocal critic of the way the government has handled the need for better fire safety protection following the Grenfell Tower blaze.

He said: “The only way to make sure that this never happens again is to remove all of the dangerous cladding and fix all of the fire safety problems that have been found on hundreds of blocks across the country.

“It is a scandal that four years after Grenfell there are still so many people living in homes that are a fire risk. The Government must come forward with a comprehensive plan to put this right.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said: “The Grenfell Tower fire was a terrible tragedy and we are doing everything in our power to implement the recommendations from the first phase of the Inquiry. Work is complete or underway in 95% of buildings identified as having ACM cladding at the beginning of 2020.

“The Government will continue to stand with the community to honour those that lost their lives and ensure justice is delivered. Our thoughts are with them as they remember the lives lost in the tragedy, four years ago. 

“We are bringing forward the biggest improvements to building safety in 40 years through our Building Safety Bill and an unprecedented £5 billion funding package to ensure residents are safe, alongside important new measures to improve the quality of social housing for residents.”

The government has already banned the use of all combustible materials on all high-rise flats, hospitals and student accommodation over 18 metres. 

As of April this year, Inside Housing reported that 223 buildings across the country still have ACM cladding on which has not yet been removed.

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