Audit, Inspection and Safety

17.08.17

Northern council to borrow £25m to ensure tower block safety

Salford Council is looking to borrow £25m to ensure aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding on its buildings is safe for residents.

An emergency meeting will take place on Wednesday 23 August to authorise the council to use its borrowing power to provide the temporary cash. However, it is unclear at this stage whether the government will foot the enormous bill, as ministers have only said that they will not stop councils borrowing to make buildings safe.

The news follows the DCLG launching a nationwide review of buildings with cladding similar to the material on the Grenfell Tower Fire in June.

City mayor Paul Dennett said that Salford was taking a lead in dealing with what he described as a “national crisis”.

“We have called on government, as a city council and through the work of the Greater Manchester High Rise Taskforce, to financially support councils and housing associations so that they can respond swiftly to legitimate public concerns,” he explained. “Residents must be able to feel safe in their home, whatever their tenure.”

The mayor added that this was not an easy time for local authorities, as government cuts had taken a severe toll on council budgets.

“This will be a strain on our resources but it is important that we respond effectively to address safety issues raised by the Grenfell Tower tragedy and we must do all in our power to ensure that a fire such as this never happens again,” he continued.

“We are now awaiting the results of independent tests before we move ahead with a permanent replacement to the cladding. At the same time, partners are quantifying total costs by putting together a complete programme of works.”

His colleague, deputy city mayor John Merry also promised residents that the council would not allow the lack of immediate funding to become a barrier to undertaking further essential fire safety works on the Pendleton tower blocks.

“We are asking for a decision to provide temporary funding so that works can continue to replace the ACM cladding as quickly as possible,” said Merry.

“The city mayor has made clear that the safety of residents is of paramount importance. So we’re now taking the necessary steps to ensure works are undertaken.”

A spokesperson for DCLG argued that the government had been clear with councils and housing associations that it expected them to do whatever local fire services and experts say is necessary to make residential buildings safe.

“We will ensure that where local fire services have advised works are essential to ensure the fire safety of a building, current restrictions on the use of financial resources will not prevent them going ahead,” they added.

Councils ‘cannot afford’ to carry out work on Tower Blocks

Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the LGA said it was very concerned with how much carrying out work on high rises could cost councils in the long run.

But last week, the organisation emphasised even further that councils would absolutely not be able to afford to pay for the large costs of ensuring Tower Blocks were safe.

“Councils with a combination of ACM cladding and insulation on their high-rise blocks have already taken steps and put in measures to reassure residents about safety,” said Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board.

“It is important that the testing process is now moving towards identifying what materials landlords should be replacing these systems with.

“We are talking to the councils affected about the costs they now face to remove and replace cladding and insulation systems on their high-rise blocks.”

Cllr Blackburn added that with test fails affecting buildings owned by a range of different landlords across the country, it was clear that the current building regulation system had failed, and that councils cannot afford to carry out this work.

“Councils want to ensure all residents in their local area are safe in their homes, regardless of whether they own the block or not,” he continued.

“There are concerns that other landlords in some areas are not acting as quickly to inform residents about test fails and lack the urgency shown by councils to identify their buildings with the cladding and insulation systems which have failed tests so far and take steps to make them safe.

“We also continue to seek clarity from the government about the powers available to councils to help encourage landlords to take such action.”

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