UK announces billions for siding crisis, but critics say it’s not enough


LONDON – The British government announced on Wednesday billions of dollars in additional funding to support people live in apartment buildings lined with flammable materials who bear the costs of sanitation works and security patrols.

But housing experts in Britain and those affected by unsafe building practices said the new measures did not go far enough.

Robert Jenrick, UK Housing Secretary, told Parliament “unprecedented intervention” to tackle the use of such a dangerous coating on buildings in England after fatal death Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.

The plan includes an expansion of an existing building security fund for owners of tall buildings to £ 5 billion, or $ 6.9 billion, as well as new developer taxes and low loans. interest rate for tenants in buildings that are not considered high-rise buildings. .

“The Grenfell Tower tragedy lingers with us and demands action,” Jenrick said. “That’s why it’s right that we address security concerns when they exist and pose a threat to life, but in a proportionate way. “

Housing experts and those affected, however, said the government had largely underestimated the impact on tenants. The financing is only for specific high-rise buildings, neglects fire issues other than siding, and could potentially trap homeowners in large loans.

“The government promised us that no tenant would have to pay to make their homes safe,” said Paul Afshar, 37, an activist for the militant group End our Cladding Scandal, who was unable to sell his apartment because he could be covered with combustible material. . “Today we feel betrayed.”

Opposition politicians, as well as some members of the Conservative Party, criticized the measures as being too trivial to address general fire safety concerns. Most private apartments in England are sold on long-term leases, with the building itself owned by a “freeholder”, often an investment group. Residents have struggled to hold building owners accountable for the use of hazardous materials, and the cost of the work needed to make buildings safe is often passed on to tenants.

“Today’s announcement is too late for too many people,” Labor Party housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire said. She called the proposed measures “piecemeal solutions”.

Stephen McPartland, a Conservative lawmaker, said he listened to the announcement with his head in his hands, noting that in addition to not addressing non-siding fire safety defects, they also did not address expensive fire safety patrols or insurance premiums that many residents had paid for.

“It is a betrayal of millions of tenants”, M. McPartland wrote in a message on Twitter. “It’s not good enough.”

The announcement comes as coatings manufacturers first testified this week in an investigation into the Grenfell Tower disaster, which killed 72 when a fire ravaged central London skyscrapers. A sales manager from Arconic, the company that manufactured the cladding for the building, admitted that the company knew the product was flammable.

The Grenfell Tower was shrouded in Combustible aluminum composite material, or ACM, outside, which contributed to the uninterrupted spread of the fire, investigators discovered. The disaster was the catalyst for a re-examination of the broader question of the use of such a coating in the country. This problem is rooted in decades of deregulation in England, leading to lenient building rules who often prioritize cost over safety.

The families of the fire victims saw the testimony as a small step towards the responsibility they asked for. Karim Mussilhy, whose uncle, Hesham Rahman, died in the blaze, said his family’s pain was made worse by government inaction and corporate negligence.

“In a way, it almost feels like we can’t move forward until something changes, because you know our families have died in the most public and horrific way possible,” did he declare. “But the reasons for their deaths are still alive today.”

He said the country must draw “a line in the sand” on building regulations. The regulatory problems uncovered by the blaze were staggering, he said, adding that he believed companies involved in making problematic products, real estate developers and the government should be held accountable.

“Grenfell was not a freak accident, and people have to stop thinking it was,” he said. “Grenfell was inevitable.”

After the fire, the government pledged to change building safety measures, favoring the removal of ACM coating in buildings over 18 meters, or about 60 feet. Almost four years later, dozens of buildings in England are still coated with this material and even more are wrapped in other flammable products.

It is estimated that 200,000 high-rise apartments are in blocks believed to be wrapped in some kind of flammable material, according to the Times of London. The same ACM coating used at Grenfell can also be found in medium and low rise buildings that are not a government priority for remediation. The labor party last week called a national task force to address building safety concerns and estimated the crisis could affect up to 4.6 million properties.

Finances are also at stake. Tens of thousands of people live in potentially dangerous apartments that they are now unable to sell, as banks refuse to offer mortgages on properties that may contain combustible materials. In buildings where hazardous materials have been identified but not dismantled, tenants pay for expensive fire patrols, although the government has proposed another relief program to offset some of these costs.

The cost of remediation work has also been passed on to tenants in some cases, along with rising insurance and maintenance costs.

Survey of homeowners affected by the siding problem made by Inside Housing, a UK trade publication, ahead of the government announcement on Wednesday showed that 62.5% of those surveyed faced a total bill of over £ 30,000 to pay for remediation costs and 15.4% faced an invoice of over £ 100,000. One in six were considering bankruptcy.

Among those facing these issues are Deepa Mistry-Longley and her husband, Gregory Longley, who share ownership of the London apartment they live in with their three children. They own 75 percent of the apartment and a housing association owns the rest.

The same hazardous coating found at Grenfell Tower has been identified and affixed to their building, but they still face high insurance premiums and high maintenance costs.

The couple, who both lost their main income during the pandemic, have been trying to move for months, but the potential for other fire safety issues in the building means that no lender would offer a mortgage to a potential buyer. . They are therefore blocked.

“Eventually we’ll run out of money, then we’ll be bankrupt,” Mistry-Longley said, ahead of the government’s announcement.

Mr Longley added: “We are on a razor’s edge.”

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