Grenfell EH team stalled

16 May 2019, Katie Coyne

Grenfell Tower clad in white sheeting after the fire

As the government pledged £200 million to replace unsafe Grenfell-type cladding, work by a promised expert EH team has still yet to begin almost a year after its inception.

In June last year housing secretary James Brokenshire announced that he would be establishing a joint inspection team (JIT) to help local authorities enforce cladding removal and advise on complex remediation work.

However, it took until January for team recruitment to start.

The JIT has now been recruited but has yet again stalled. This is against the background of Brokenshire releasing the £200 million to pay for remediation (the government had originally said landlords would have to foot the bill).

Sources told EHN Extra that the hold-up was due to delays in obtaining indemnity for the work from the Treasury – although this should only take a matter of weeks to get.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has refused to comment on why this has been delayed. Instead, it told Extra the following: “The Local Government Association (LGA) Inspection Team is engaging with local authorities on how best to support them in enforcing the remediation of buildings with unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM).

“MHCLG is continuing to work with the Local Government Association to ensure the team is as effective as possible.”

The LGA and Treasury were unavailable for comment.

The JIT full complement comprises a building fire safety engineer, a principal EH officer and three EH officers. The experience required by the team as outlined in the job advertisement was: in-depth experience of HHSRS; enforcement action; interviewing under caution; preparing warrants; and giving evidence in court.

Almost two years on from the Grenfell Tower fire that claimed 72 lives and injured more than 70 people, just 11 of the 176 of the residential private sector buildings with ACM cladding have completed remediation work.

Brokenshire announced the £200 million Private Sector Remediation Fund for ACM cladding earlier this month, saying: “We must ensure the permanent safety of these buildings as swiftly as possible. The Prime Minister and I have also reiterated that leaseholders should not bear the cost of remediation.

“It is incumbent on us to end the uncertainty and stress they have been living under.

“I am persuaded that, having considered a number of alternatives, the only effective way to achieve this increase in pace and to protect leaseholders financially is to fund the remediation of all private residential high-rise buildings with unsafe ACM cladding, except where a warranty provider has accepted liability.”

• Meanwhile, at the end of April the Environmental Audit Committee heard from Anna Stec, professor in fire chemistry and toxicity at the University of Central Lancashire, about the ongoing health threats from Grenfell to survivors, residents and emergency responders.

Stec has identified chemical contamination in soil around Grenfell as a result of the fire and has repeatedly called for blood and saliva testing to be carried out urgently by Public Health England to detect the levels of contaminants in people.

EAC chair Mary Creagh said: “We were astonished to hear that, to her knowledge, testing is not taking place.

“What was equally alarming was her evidence that a flat around 90 metres from the tower contained a chemical known to lead to asthma, which she believed had been brought by fire debris.

“Residents have told Professor Stec they cannot breathe inside their homes. She’s calling for Kensington and Chelsea Council to carry out a deep clean of all flats in the Grenfell area, including ventilation systems, as soon as possible.

“There’s also concern about a local school which she believes should be tested inside and out for chemical residues. To her knowledge, these tests have not occurred. She, and we, believe they should.

“People living around Grenfell have the right to expect that all necessary steps will be taken to protect their health after the tragedy. I will be raising these issues with ministers as a matter of urgency.”

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