Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) will administer the Government’s Waking Watch Relief Fund to private buildings with unsafe cladding in Greater Manchester.
The new £30 million national fund, announced in December 2020, is to pay for the installation of fire alarm systems in buildings across the country with unsafe cladding so that costly waking watch interim measures can be reduced or removed.
The fund builds on recently updated guidance published by the National Fire Chief’s Council (NFCC) on buildings that change from a ‘Stay Put’ to a ‘Simultaneous Evacuation’ fire safety strategy.
Whilst waking watch when established and operated in accordance with NFCC guidance is an acceptable risk mitigation strategy, the guidance is clear that alarms are preferable on the grounds of both safety and cost efficiency.
Although the eligibility criteria for the fund have been determined by central government, the GMCA has agreed to administer the fund for the city region so that applications from buildings in Greater Manchester can be processed rapidly, alleviating the financial burden on leaseholders.
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) holds detailed information about eligible buildings which can be used to quickly verify information provided by applicants and also has relationships with housing providers and managing agents, who will share information about the fund targeted at affected buildings.
GMCA’s agreement to process applications to the fund for the region’s buildings aligns with the work of the Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force, which was set-up by Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, following the Grenfell Tower fire to ensure that buildings are safe and to provide reassurance to residents.
Commenting, Mr Burnham said: “This is a good opportunity for us to make sure that the fund is administered as quickly as possible to Greater Manchester residents who urgently need support given the life-changing bills they are facing to keep their homes safe.
“Following a positive meeting with the Minister for Building Safety (Lord Stephen Greenhalgh), I agreed that we should support the delivery of this welcomed financial support to benefit our residents.
“I made clear to the Minister our serious concerns about the buildings that are excluded from the fund and my strongly held belief that more financial support is required. This is, however, a step in the right direction.
“The impact on leaseholders is staggering, with residents fearing a devastating and unfair choice between bankruptcy and long-term loans. It is important that people who live in ineligible buildings are not forgotten.
“This is not a party-political issue and we must all work to ensure a solution is found to the building safety crisis and I look forward to further positive engagement with the Minister.
“This issue which affects thousands is not about buildings, but about people, and I am keen to work with the Government to support all residents of Greater Manchester who are affected.”
Salford City Mayor and Chair of GM’s High Rise Task Force, Paul Dennett added: “I am confident that GMCA will be able to administer this funding in Greater Manchester in the most effective way to ensure it reaches eligible residents as quickly as possible.
“However, while this funding is welcome, it is long overdue and it is imperative that the Government make funding available to all affected buildings. The scale of the problem in Greater Manchester alone is huge and we are finding more and more buildings affected as new data and intelligence continues to be shared with us.
“We have repeatedly said that the national industrial regulatory crisis is not restricted to cladding, nor is it restricted to buildings over 18 metres. The Government recognised this in 2020, but so far has failed to address this with adequate financial support.
“Leaseholders in buildings with serious fire safety failings and those in non-high rise buildings are also burdened by the costs of waking watches because of fire safety issues that they are not responsible for and this is completely unacceptable.
“I urge the Government to commit to making further funding available and to extend the eligibility requirement so that all affected buildings can apply, not just those over 18 metres or with cladding-related problems.
“We will continue to work with residents in affected buildings and with campaign groups, like the Manchester Cladiators, to lobby the Government to deliver and ensure that residents are not crippled with exorbitant costs just to be safe in their own homes.”
As well as Greater Manchester, seven other authorities across England have been allocated funding for the Walking Watch Relief Fund: Greater London, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Bristol, Newcastle upon Tyne and Sheffield respectively.