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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Action needed now on unsafe blocks of flats in Wales

It was very concerning to read on the BBC this morning that Wales chief fire advisor, Des Tidbury believes that residents in private high-rise blocks may have to live with unsafe cladding for years because of wrangling over who should pay to replace it.

Apparently, fifteen buildings in Wales were found to have the same type of aluminium composite cladding which engulfed Grenfell, 12 of them being private sector blocks comprising of about 700 flats. The others were social housing blocks in Newport which are being adapted with £3m in Welsh Government funding.

However, the broadcaster reports that there is uncertainty over who will pay for improvements on privately-owned blocks:

There have been calls by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) for the Welsh Government to offer short-term loans to the privately owned buildings for remedial works, while the issue of liability is ironed out.

Mr Tidbury said different types of tenancy contracts, complicated management arrangements and where responsibility lies for communal areas formed part of the issue.

"It's extremely complex and can only be looked at building by building," he said.

"It could be that a landlord in good faith commissioned the work to be done, but the cladding that was used was of the sort that may have been used at Grenfell, so issues around that.

"Then who is responsible… was it the landlord for commissioning the work or indeed was it the contractor for putting up the cladding?

"And then you look at the testing regime for some of the products and materials, that's also been called into question.

"In the end you might never get to the point where you fully identify who is responsible, it could take years and years and years."

Although fire safety features, such as night-time walking patrols and extra alarms, are being introduced in affected buildings in the shorter term, the costs are falling on leaseholders in some cases.

There have been warnings some homeowners cannot sell or re-mortgage their apartments due to the cladding issues.

This is not a situation that can be allowed to fester for too long. Clearly it is not right that tenants and leaseholders should foot the bill, but neither should the public purse be held liable for the costs of making these blocks safe. However, if the Welsh Government does not act soon then lives may be put at risk.

My view is that legally the responsibility for sorting this problem should rest with the freehold owner of these flats. He or she may then wish to pursue the company responsible for fitting and/or supplying or certifying the cladding for reimbursement.

But the Residential Landlords Association is right, we cannot wait for legal actions to be exhausted before action is taken. The cladding needs to be replaced now. That is why the common sense approach they suggest of the Welsh Government lending the money so that the work can be carried out expeditiously seems to be the most practical way forward.

The ball is now in the Welsh Minister's court. Let us hope she picks it up and does something with it quickly.
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