PM says cost of safety work should not eat into social housing maintenance budgets
The government will commit about £400m to cover the cost for councils and housing associations of replacing potentially dangerous cladding from high-rise blocks in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, Theresa May has announced.
Speaking at prime minister’s questions, May said it would be wrong if the cost of such cladding work meant housing providers had less money for maintenance.
Answering a question from the Conservative MP Bob Blackman about the government’s progress leading up to the anniversary of the fire on 14 June last year, in which 71 people died, May said fire services had now checked more than 1,250 high-rises.
“Councils and housing associations must remove dangerous cladding quickly, but paying for these works must not undermine their ability to do important maintenance and repair work,” May told MPs.
“I’ve worked closely with my right honourable friends, the chancellor and the housing secretary, and I can today confirm that the government will fully fund the removal and replacement of dangerous cladding by councils and housing associations, estimated at £400m. And the housing secretary will set out further details later this week.”
May’s spokeswoman said later that cladding replacement work was needed on 158 high-rise blocks – defined as being 18 metres or higher – in the social sector in England, and that it had begun on 104 of these.
The £400m sum was a best estimate, she said, adding: “I think the important thing to take from today is that we’re committed to fully funding it.”
The Local Government Association, which represents councils, said it had been in talks with ministers over the issue for some time. It said in a statement: “It is great that the government has honoured its commitment from last summer to meet the unexpected exceptional costs for councils arising from major remedial fire safety work on high-rise buildings.”
There is no funding for privately owned blocks, but May’s spokeswoman said No 10 thought the cost should be met by the landlords rather than leaseholders: “This is money for social housing. We expect private building owners to take responsibility for removing and replacing and to not pass the cost onto leaseholders.”
Councils have been urging the government since the fire to guarantee it will cover the costs of replacing potentially dangerous cladding, warning that the cost would prove excessive for many local authorities.
In another part of her answer to Blackman, May said that of the 210 Grenfell households in need of rehousing after the blaze, 201 had accepted an offer of temporary or permanent accommodation.
An inquiry is to examine the causes of the blaze, and the official response to it. Last week, the government announced that the inquiry panel would be widened to include people with the skills to examine the cultural and community reasons behind the fire, following pressure from survivors and the families of victims.
May originally opposed adding panel members alongside the existing inquiry chair, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, a retired high court judge and a specialist in contract law.
In December, May appeared to reject a request from bereaved family members for a diverse decision-making panel to sit alongside the head of the public inquiry. That call was backed by a petition, eventually signed by more than 156,000 people and promoted by the musician Stormzy, that was triggered by concerns over Moore-Bick’s ability to relate to the survivors