Few of us in the UK will forget the Grenfell Tower disaster in which 72 people died after a fire broke out in a 24 storey block of flats in North Kensington, it burned for 60 hours before being extinguished. Residents and witnesses blamed the external insulation and cladding for the fire’s fast spread and accused its’ developers of taking lethal shortcuts with fire safety.
Findings from an inquiry into the disaster found the building’s exterior did not comply with regulations and was the main reason why the fire spread. The fire service was also called into question with the advice to evacuate coming far too late.
What has changed since?
In 2020 the Fire Safety Bill was drawn up by the government with calls for developers and building managers to pay for safety improvements in blocks of flats across England and Wales.
The laws are designed to prevent a repeat of the Grenfell Tower tragedy but with questions over who will ultimately foot the bill, the proposed laws have become a game of ‘political ping-pong’ moving back and forth between The House of Commons and Lords.
In the most recent vote, an amendment from the House of Lords proposed the government should pay the initial costs of improving a building’s fire safety measures before recouping this money from developers and cladding companies. MP’s rejected the amendment.
But, why isn’t the government covering the cost?
The government has promised £5bn to replace combustible cladding but only on buildings over 18 metres in height and this funding doesn’t cover any other fire safety defects. This leaves leaseholders in blocks less than 18m and which have dangerous cladding, defective fire doors or missing fire breaks in wall systems with huge bills and unsellable homes.
To date, Tory ministers have promised in the House of Commons at least 17 times that leaseholders would not be forced to pay to fix fire safety problems that were not their fault - yet who will foot the bill remains unanswered.
Sarah Jones, Shadow Minister for policing and fire service said ‘ the government has once again broken its promise to protect leaseholders and blameless people will pay the price”
Members of the House of Lords discused a series of amendments in relation to prohibiting the cost of remedial building works required by a Fire Safety Order being passed onto leaseholders and tenants on Tuesday, April 20th 2021. The amendments were rejected and the bill now returns to parliament.