The UK cladding crisis is one of the largest ongoing scandals in the UK. First brought to light following the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, the crisis concerns many buildings across the UK which have been clad with combustible materials.
The Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed the lives of 72 people and injured more than 70 others, sounded the alarm for the UK cladding crisis. The initial 2019 report by the Grenfell Fire Inquiry showed the building used ACMcladding and insulation that did not meet regulatory safety standards.
How Big Is The Uk Cladding Crisis?
However, further investigations uncovered a much bigger problem. ACM cladding and other unsafe materials had been used on buildings across the UK. the use of ACM in Scotland was already highly restricted through building and planning regulations. Investigations also did not reveal any inappropriate uses of ACM cladding in Northern Ireland.
There were few cases in Wales.
However, England found more than 460 cases where ACM cladding had been used on buildings over 18 metres tall as of January 2021. Of these, 329 had removed the cladding and 231 had completed remedial work by this time.
The problem also extended to non-residential buildings. Investigations uncovered cases such as the 52-bed trauma unit at the John Radcliffe Hospital, which closed temporarily due to fire safety concerns due to cladding.
Though ACM cladding was the initial concern and a primary factor of the Grenfell disaster, inquiries uncovered many uses of other unsafe cladding. In some cases, ACM cladding had been replaced with other unsuitable cladding. And the problems were not limited to cladding. Other concerns that were raised included;
- Combustibility of cladding materials, including high-pressure laminate
- Combustible balconies
- Lack of firebreaks in the cavities between walls and insulation
- Firedoors that don’t comply with regulations
By June 2020, in England, around 1700 buildings over 18 metres required urgent remediation, according to government estimates. According to The Parliamentary Housing Committee, a further 9600 buildings were likely to have combustible cladding.
Fixing The Cladding Crisis
We are five years after the Grenfell disaster, but how close are we to fixing the cladding crisis? As investigations continued, the problems only seemed to grow. It seemed investigations were uncovering new issues faster than they were being fixed. So is the end in sight for the cladding crisis?
Since Grenfell, the government have made a series of pledges to fund the required remedial work:
- £400 million for the removal of ACM cladding on social housing (2018)
- £200 million for ACM rendition for private sector high-rise buildings (2019)
- £200 million for privately owned tower blocks (2020)
- £1 billion for replacing non-ACM cladding
- The Waking Watch Fund for fire alarm system installations
- £3.5 billion cladding replacement fund (2021)
New Rules And Regulations
As funding and remedial work were put in place to fix existing issues, law and regulation changes were made to prevent future problems.
Fire Safety Act
The Fire Safety Act 2021 was one of the biggest legislative responses to the Grenfell Tower fire. It concerns building in England and Wales and makes changes to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The act has several provisions, including stipulations for sharing information with local fire and rescue services and conducting safety inspections. It also introduces a public fire risk assessment register.
Building Safety Bill
Following the Grenfell disaster, the Building Safety Bill was also introduced. Like the Fire Safety Act, it aims to prevent future incidents. The bill’s main focus is to give residents more ability to hold developers and builders accountable. The bill introduced harsher penalties for those that fail to meet regulations.
Is There An End To The Cladding Crisis?
Despite being five years on from the Grenfell Tower fire, there are decades of damage that needs reversing. The scale of the cladding crisis is far large than initially thought. And the problem is not limited to cladding. However, work is underway, and funding has been put in place. We may not have fully resolved the issues yet, but we are taking steps in the right direction.