A long-awaited taskforce to help local authorities identify and remove combustible cladding similar to that used on the Grenfell tower is finally being set up.
Communities secretary James Brokenshire promised in June that a joint inspection team (JIT) would be created to advise local authorities on complex remediation work but no steps have so far been taken.
In the 18 months since the fire, only five out of the 183 high-rise, privately rented blocks identified have had aluminium composite material (ACM) panels removed and the building repaired according to the latest figures from MHCLG.
The Local Government Association is now advertising for a principal EH officer to lead the JIT, and three other EH professionals with ‘substantial experience of using HHSRS, taking enforcement action, conducting interviews under caution, preparing warrants, and giving evidence in court’.
A building fire safety engineer is expected to be recruited at a later date, and the entire cost of the team has been estimated in the region of £1 million. The advert specifies that EH professionals on the team will also be expected to help train non-EH staff in the JIT, such as fire engineers, building control staff, solicitors and a data analyst.
The job specification says the national team will ‘support local authorities and give them confidence to pursue enforcement action against building owners of residential high-rise buildings with unsafe ACM cladding’.
Successful applicants will ‘advise local authorities in using the Housing Act 2004 to assess the hazard risk of ACM cladding in high-rise residential buildings and in taking enforcement action against building owners who are slow to remediate’.
The JIT is being set up by the Local Government Association, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the national fire chiefs’ council.
A total of 441 high-rise buildings – including the 183 privately rented high-rises, hotels, student accommodation, social sector residential buildings, as well as publically owned buildings such as hospitals and schools- have been identified as containing the highly flammable panels. Yet only 63 have been remediated.
However, it is within the private residential sector that is moving particularly slowly.
The Housing Health and Safety Rating System has had an addendum added, which will come into force in 24 January, providing specific guidance on the removal of unsafe ACM panel cladding from high rises.
In December the government amended the building regulations to ban the use of combustible materials in the external walls – including window panels and infill panels but not window frames – of new residential buildings above 18 metres.
This includes hospitals, residential care homes, student halls and boarding school dormitories. If they are below 18 metres they will not be affected and the change does not apply to existing buildings.
The same month, Brokenshire also announced the Building a Safer Future programme, which commits the government to a programme of reform recommended by Dame Judith Hackitt in her review of building regulations and fire safety published following the Grenfell fire.