Grenfell bereaved ‘frustrated’ at cladding issue three years on

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A bereaved relative has said it is “frustrating” that unsafe cladding is still an issue, three years after the Grenfell Tower fire.

Karim Mussilhy, whose uncle Hesham Rahman died in the blaze, said he had never heard of cladding before the tragedy at the west London block, three years ago this weekend.

Mr Mussilhy, vice chair of support group Grenfell United, told the PA news agency: “I remember the day of the fire, it’s all everybody was talking about.

“It was very clear that this cladding was the main cause of why the fire spread how it spread.

“It was everywhere, it was all over the area, it was all over our clothes, we could smell it.

“Still three years on we’re talking about getting it down.”

His comments come after a parliamentary committee warned fixing all serious fire safety defects in high-risk residential buildings could cost up to £15 billion.

Mr Mussilhy added: “The Government are very good at making announcements” but, he continued: “making those announcements materialise into actually putting things into place, it never seems to happen quick enough.”

Grenfell Tower Inquiry
Karim Mussilhy, who lost his uncle in the Grenfell Tower fire (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has called for “a fundamental reform of building safety” and the group’s chairman Roy Wilsher said “everyone has a right to feel safe in their homes” and called for ministers to speed up changes “to make sure we do not see another tragedy of this scale unfold”.

Some 2,000 residential buildings are still wrapped in dangerous cladding, with thousands of homeowners sleeping in potential fire traps every night, according to the report by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee (HCLGC).

But the Government’s new £1 billion fund to remove certain types of cladding will cover just one third of the highest-risk blocks in England, it adds.

Moreover, it says: “Stringent rules on applying to the fund, including a short application window and restrictions against social housing providers, risks leaving many unable to access vital funding.”

The report, ‘Cladding: Progress of Remediation’, calls on the Government to pay the “exorbitant costs” of temporary safety measures currently being footed by blameless leaseholders, before preparing to take legal action against building owners who have dragged their heels.

Some 300 residential blocks in England still have Grenfell-style aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, while around 1,700 more have some form of dangerous cladding such as timber or high pressure laminate.

The Government has so far committed £200 million for the removal of ACM cladding from private residential blocks and £400 million for social sector blocks.

In the spring Budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak set up a £1 billion fund for the removal of unsafe non-ACM cladding for residential blocks 18 metres or taller.

But the committee said this would cover only around 600 of the 1,700 buildings, saying the Government is “clearly trying to find ways to fit a £3 billion liability into a £1 billion funding pot”.

Moreover, building owners only have between June 1 and July 31 to apply for funds, which are to be allocated on a “first come, first served” basis, and any works commenced before March 2020 will not be covered.

The report added the funds cover only cladding removal, and do not stretch to other serious fire safety defects including combustible insulation, timber balconies and walkways, missing fire breaks and faulty fire doors.

Sunday marks three years since the Grenfell Tower fire, where an electrical fault with a fridge freezer sparked a devastating blaze which killed 72 people.

Flames which rapidly engulfed the 24-storey west London building were fuelled by its ACM cladding system, which had a polyethylene core.

The cladding system had a heat combustion akin to diesel and close to lighter fluid, the public inquiry into the disaster has heard.

The report said the victims of Grenfell had paid “a terrible price for a catastrophic failure of industry and Government”.

Since the fire, there has been a national ban on using combustible cladding on new buildings and mandatory sprinklers on new-builds over 11 metres.

A Government spokesman said: “The safety of residents is our top priority and since the Grenfell Tower fire we have worked tirelessly with councils to identify buildings at risk and ensure they are made safe.

“We are providing £1.6 billion for the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings and are bringing forward the biggest legislative changes in a generation to provide further enforcement powers against those who do not comply with the law and ensuring that residents’ safety is at the heart of the construction process.

“Building owners have a legal responsibility to keep their residents safe and whilst we have seen positive action from some, we are clear that more needs to be done to protect their tenants.”

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