At a Full Council meeting earlier this month, Tower Hamlets councillors adopted a Labour amendment calling on the government to increase funding for its building safety fund to fix cladding issues on private sector tall buildings.

The Labour Group also called on government to publish a database of affected buildings and to streamline access to the building safety fund as many residents are struggling to apply to the scheme because of a complicated application process.

The council is calling on the government to expand the funding available to deal with these issues rather than leaving it to home-owners to foot the bill for failures in regulation. Currently, many homeowners face enormous financial bills because of the prospect of having to fund remediation works themselves.

After Mayor Biggs was elected, he commissioned a review of fire safety in council-owned blocks and the council invested over £6m over three years. Following the Grenfell fire, further checks were carried out.

A new report out this month – from the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee – called on the Government to ‘recommit to the principle that leaseholders should not pay anything towards the cost of remediating historical building safety defects’, however the Government’s recent Spending Review did not allocate any new funding to remove unsafe cladding from high rise buildings.

John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “We all have a responsibility to ensure that the dreadful events of the Grenfell fire do not happen again. This is why it’s vital for the government to increase its building safety fund so that works can be undertaken as soon as possible without causing financial ruin to those living in the affected buildings.

“It can’t be right for homeowners to foot the bill for failures in regulation, and I agree with the Housing Select Committee that leaseholders shouldn’t face these bills.”

Cllr Sirajul Islam, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Housing said: “Tower Hamlets has more tall buildings than anywhere else in the country so fire remediation is a key priority for the council. I’m pleased that members agreed that we should investigate ways for the council to provide support to residents who are understandably worried about their safety and financial futures.”

Cllr Eve McQuillan, Cabinet Member leading on Planning, said: “I’m glad that these proposals have been agreed on a cross-party basis and that there’s recognition that the Government must do more in order to address these serious issues. We welcome the Government’s Hackitt review and will lobby for changes to building regulations, particularly fire safety regulations, to be as robust as possible.”

Full text of the motion as agreed:

 

This Council notes:

Shortly after the Grenfell fire, the council wrote to the owners and managing agents of over 700 private sector tall buildings.

Following responses from landlords and further investigations by officers the council identified 39 private sector residential buildings with ACM and a further 10 under investigation.

Council officers are in liaison with the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government, the Greater London Authority, and London Councils on this matter.

That 282 buildings in Tower Hamlets have registered for the government’s £1bn building safety fund to fix cladding issues. That the local authorities with the next highest numbers of affected buildings were Manchester with 136 buildings, 130 in Newham, 127 in Westminster, 126 in Southwark, 102 in Greenwich.

That this list does not include most housing association properties which have a separate application process.

That this list also does not include other buildings with non-ACM cladding issues but where there are other fire safety issues. And it also does not include any building under 18 meters in height.

Tower Hamlets Council officers meet weekly to monitor progress with the remediation of blocks with ACM and the work of this group has widened to include collating the results of the External Wall Systems Survey (EWS).

In respect of EWS, the council has written to over 800 building owners and has received 673 replies to the online survey.  All returns from building owners are being entered on to a Government database which is checked by government and the council, with council officers undertaking further checks where more investigation is needed.

The NLA Tall Building Survey 2020 shows 78 tall buildings in the planning pipeline in Tower Hamlets with 18 completed in 2019. Both numbers substantially in excess of any other Borough.

It is clear that Tower Hamlets is the home of both the most tall buildings (as well as tallest) and the greatest number of buildings with fire safety issues

We welcome the government’s Hackett review and will lobby for changes to building regulations – which include fire safety regulations – to be robust. The GLA is also producing policy on Fire Safety in the London Plan. We will ensure plans in Tower Hamlets comply with this.

This Council further notes:

That residents face huge uncertainty in two areas;

  1. Living in buildings whose fire safety is suspect or where regulations are now different, who may now have 247 fire wardens and emergency evacuation procedures;
  2. Living with huge financial uncertainty that could result in bankruptcy, inability to sell their properties, increased service charges or financially crippling bills;

 

That housing associations may also face financial pressures for similar reasons.

The draft Building Safety Bill which puts the financial onus on homeowners rather than those who built, approved, signed off or regulated those buildings.

That some buildings were approved by Tower Hamlets Council own building control team, although we note that the team were assessing in accordance with the regulations at the time.

That as yet except for national charities like Leasehold Knowledge Partnership and neighbour assisting neighbour there is no local help nor advice available. Residents are having to become experts on these issues but with no support nor assistance.

The funding available from central government to remediate both ACM and EWS issues is inadequate and could leave leaseholders bearing the brunt of costly remediation work.

That on the 13th November 2019 an amended motion 11.1 Motion regarding Restoring Fairness to the Leasehold System was adopted by Tower Hamlets Council and that the CMA issued its investigation report in February 2020.

This Council resolves:

  • That we urge the Government to publish a database of every affected building of all types, so that we capture in detail the kinds of problems, types of buildings, height etc;
  • That list needs to be published in a summarised and anonymised way so that we understand the scale of the issue in Tower Hamlets and across the country, how many residents live in unsafe buildings?;
  • That we call on the Government to make access to the building remediation fund less complicated and time consuming;
  • That where developers are submitting new planning applications but have unresolved issues in their older buildings which they have chosen to not help resolve that they justify why they should be allowed to build again, although we note that the applicants themselves are not a material consideration and that applications are assessed on their merits in accordance with relevant development plan policies;
  • That we ask the Lead Members and officers to explore and report back on:
    • What advice is already available, and whether it would be beneficial to add to the advice already available through LIF to fund a Help & Advice team for a time limited period (3 years tbc), whose role it could be to advise residents and to keep them informed as well as ensure developers and managing agents are aware of their responsibilities;
    •  providing assistance with access to planning permission/building regs if required for Fire Remediation and also access to technical drawings for older buildings which are not on the LBTH portal for free if the purpose is to deal with fire safety issues;
    • A piece of work to sit alongside the High Density Living Supplementary Planning Document with a focus on the management issues caused by tall buildings as well as fire issues even if it can only include recommendations;
  • That we ask government to expand the funding available to deal with these issues as it cannot be right for home owners to foot the bill for failures in regulation and oversight by professionals and government;
  • That S106 is paid to deliver on specific issues so cannot be used for remediation, but where a building has fire safety issues it would be unfair for residents to have to pay s106, which remains unspent and then again to fix their homes;
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