Building companies that installed unsafe cladding on social housing blocks are now being paid millions to remove it after the Grenfell disaster. One fire survivor branded the contracts “absolutely ludicrous.”
Following the Grenfell fire that killed 71 people and left hundreds homeless last June, it emerged that the tower in North Kensington had been built with a cheaper, more flammable version of two cladding options available. It spurred the British government to order a series of tests on high-rise buildings to establish which sort of cladding complied with safety regulations.
Reuters identified 65 towers that were found to have been approved by local building inspectors, but which government tests revealed did not comply with the statutory regulations. Of those, 29 were having their panels removed or replaced by the same company that installed them in the first place, according to the owners of the buildings, who claim they are having to fork out millions for the work. The rehired companies are Willmott Dixon, Wates and Engie.
Allison Moses, a Grenfell survivor, told RT it is “absolutely ludicrous” that the very same companies which installed the hazardous materials are now being trusted and awarded millions in contracts to get the “rubbish” off the buildings.
“Why would you pay the same people that put it up to take it down? It makes no sense,” she told RT. “Personally, if I was living in a block like that I wouldn’t trust the contractor to come and remove anything.”
The 65 blocks identified by Reuters are owned either by councils or housing associations, and are publicly funded. At the time the panels were installed, the work had been signed off as compliant with safety regulations by inspectors – usually council workers or staff from inspection firms licensed by councils.
Because of the numerous parties involved in the subcontracting of building procedures,
Chris Blythe, CEO of trade body the Chartered Institute of Building, told Reuters there is a strong chance of things being misunderstood.
“The business model we have is almost geared up for potential failure,” he said. If there were fewer parties involved it would be easier to understand who holds responsibility, he added.
The three rehired companies declined to comment on how much the contracts were worth, but some of the owners did respond. Oxford Council will reportedly spend around £1 million ($1.3 million) for two blocks, Octavia said it would spend approximately £2 million ($2.6 million) for one block, Westminster Council said an average of £6 million ($8 million) would be spent on for six blocks, while Barnet Homes put the figure at £8.2 million ($11 million) for three blocks.
The money is being forked out despite lawyers claiming councils and housing associations could sue contractors for the cost of replacing panels if it was found that their work was incompliant.
Moses said it is “outrageous” that companies shown to have done a “shoddy job” installing the cladding should be paid twice.
A public inquiry into the causes and handling of the Grenfell inferno began in early December. In its first stage, the investigation will look at possible defects in the 24-storey tower, while the second phase will examine modifications made to the West London building and whether they conformed to building regulations. Emergency services’ response will also be assessed.