Lessons of Grenfell still haven’t been learnt: Words and Actions not aligned
Did you know, since the horror of Grenfell, almost 4 years ago, that three-quarters of cladding systems being installed on new medium-rise buildings still use combustible materials? I didn’t. https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/three-quarters-of-cladding-systems-on-new-medium-rise-buildings-use-combustible-materials-data-shows-70298
After Grenfell this seems unreal. Did the housing sector learn anything from the tragedy?
Firstly, are these combustible materials even legal? It seems that the answer here is yes. Put simply - combustible cladding products tend to be cheaper and the risk of death in a medium high-rise building is classed as lower than in a high high-rise building. Developers want to maximise profit and have no long-term investment stake. So, whilst combustible cladding is compliant within current building regulations, the issue will remain – it can be used and building control have to sign it off. But is this right?
This is a real issue for Wales and in particular the private sector – we don’t tend to build the massive high rises you see in English cities. These medium size blocks are more of a feature in our urban areas, cities, and student towns.
So why do people buy them? I’m sure that someone is reading this and is muttering, ‘if no one bought them then the builders would go out of business…’ the classic free market argument, but I’m afraid I do not accept that all.
We can’t expect the caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware” to apply to buying or renting a property.
How would a new buyer even start to understand the specifications of cladding? Society needs to have trust in safety standards for properties in the same way it does with cars, boilers, and aeroplanes, to name just a few.
When I buy a car, I don’t check that the seat foam is fire retardant; when I jumped on a plane (pre pandemic) I didn’t study the aircraft’s maintenance log or check the quality of its fuel. We expect that there are satisfactory consumer protection standards and regulations in place and that these are followed for our own protection. Is it so unreasonable to expect the same from housing?
New buyers just don’t have the skills to even comprehend cladding specs and buy-to-let landlords are more focused on their rent yield calculator.
So, are Building Regulations failing us? Yes, but that is not an area within Welsh Government’s control, it’s an issue within Westminster’s remit, so don’t expect much movement on that any time soon.
We live in a world where Westminster and its friendly media want to make regulation unfashionable. ‘Less red tape’ and ‘more self-regulation’ is the current mantra, but this area within the housing sector is not self-regulating itself. It is continuing to let residents down.
The Senedd (Welsh Parliament) elections are on May 5th. TPAS Cymru calls on the next Housing Minister to take a good look at this subject and take whatever decisive action within their power to address this. This simply can’t be allowed to continue.
David Wilton, Chief Exec, TPAS Cymru
Note: Thanks to Matt Dick at CIH Cymru for sharing the original Inside Housing article on his LinkedIn page.