by: Mary-Anne Bowring/Telegraph
When a horrific fire engulfed Grenfell Tower in June 2017, it took firefighters more than 60 hours before they could fully extinguish the blaze. The 24-storey block in west London had been refurbished the previous year, but the materials used to clad the building were highly flammable and exacerbated the fire in which 72 people lost their lives. In the days following the tragedy, hundreds of other blocks with potentially combustible cladding were identified and the Government subsequently revised guidelines that stated which materials could safely be used on high-rise blocks. However, three years on from the blaze, many blocks are still covered in potentially unsafe materials, with no sign of crucial remediation works taking place.
The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, an influential group of MPs, has called on the Government to intervene but has warned that repairing the 2,000 properties that have combustible cladding could cost £15bn. Many of these homes have been declared effectively worthless by valuers because they do not have the certification that declares the buildings safe. Even those in low-rise blocks without any cladding have been left unable to sell after Government rule changes. Surveyors will value properties at zero unless they have evidence they are safe. Banks will not offer mortgages without an accurate valuation. Freeholders refuse to pay for checks to be carried out on buildings that met Government guidelines at the time of construction.
This stand-off between building owners, surveyors, mortgage lenders and the Government has left residents trapped in the middle, unable to move home and fearing for their safety. Mary-Anne Bowring, of property firm Ringley, believes the Government is the only party that can break the deadlock, but that more funds would be needed. “The number one duty of any government is to ensure its citizens safety,” she said. “The government should make an open-ended commitment to fund whatever work is necessary to ensure that every single block of flats is safe.” Further rule changes are on the horizon as the Government has tabled a new Building Safety Bill, which could take effect as soon as October.
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