Too little has been done since the Grenfell Tower fire | Letters

Readers respond to an article stating that a lack of action means thousands of people in the UK still live in towers with combustible cladding

My heart goes out to Sandra Ruiz and I welcome her support, and that of others, who are trying to get the government to recognise a huge national problem (There will be more fires like Grenfell, and lives will be lost, Journal, 4 December).

It is not only buildings covered in cladding that are putting residents’ lives at risk. There are 79 Greater Manchester tower blocks that still do not meet fire safety standards.

Many of these are the result of building regulations not being adhered to during construction. The second phase of the Grenfell inquiry will no doubt uncover the issues of lack of fire barriers and compartmentation, which are vital to give time for evacuation.

Apart from the fear people are living with, the problem is also the financial burden hanging over their heads and an inability to sell, making the homes in which they have invested valueless. This results from lack of oversight during building and relaxing of inspection regimes, plus the failure of large and national developers to respond to the letters and reports sent to them by leaseholders. Someone is responsible, everyone is ignoring it.
Moira Sykes

• Sandra Ruiz is right about the need for an Australian-style national task force to address the cladding scandal. The need is pressing for safety reasons, but also because leaseholders are now struggling to afford insurance cover for buildings with ACM.

My own flat in Birmingham is affected. Our 144-unit residential site recently saw its insurance premium jump from about £36,000 a year to about £180,000 (£190,000 with fees). Yet our leaseholder management company has actively improved fire safety at our development, with measures such as a waking watch, lighting upgrades and a programme to improve structural fire resilience. Nor do we have the numerous factors (gas in the building, etc) that contributed to the Grenfell fire.

Despite government rhetoric and its own record of regulatory failure, these huge insurance costs fall not on builders or freeholders but, by law, on leaseholders alone. We did not create this crisis, yet insurance premiums are now draining cash that would otherwise go on cladding removal and other essential fire safety works.

Is the insurance market for buildings with combustible cladding broken? If it is, the government needs to step in as insurance guarantor for any building with the cladding problem.

Householders in flood-prone areas who found insurance premiums rocketing, or impossible to obtain, were offered government guarantees. It’s time ministers did the same for leaseholder sites with risky cladding.
Phil Davis
Chair, Islington Gates Management Co, Birmingham

Making sense of the government’s response to the Grenfell Tower fire of June 2017 is easier if you focus on two particular defects of the building regulations.

The most obvious defect is the 2002 change to allow the external surface of cladding to have class B “limited combustibility”. Hundreds of towers were consequently covered with unsafe cladding that was claimed to comply with this guidance. So far, not a single freeholder has been taken to court for non-compliance, yet the courts find that hapless leaseholders must pay to remedy all of the risks imposed on them by the incompetence of the freeholder’s agents.

The less obvious defect has been highlighted by recent fires, which have quickly spread up facades with continuous windows. This is a consequence of the regulations not requiring a yard-deep band of incombustible material between floors, as required in London until 1984. This curiosity had little effect until the 1984 Building Act rescinded the London regime and allowed owners to self-certify and exploit this defect without oversight.

Any residential building with either of these defects is unsafe because the stay-put fire strategy, intended to assist fire-fighting, assumes a fire will be limited to the flat where the fire started.

The government’s deny-and-delay strategy has worked. The “independent” review of the regulations, set up by HSE staff, failed to find a single defect as it insisted that technical criticisms be unanimous, which effectively gave the cladding industry a veto on any changes.

The public inquiry will not look at the regulations until next year, so the technical incompetence revealed by the Grenfell Tower fire continues to be obscured by a bureaucracy serving corporate interests.
Steve Murray
Architect, Swanage, Dorset

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