Addressing the UK’s cladding crisis
By Simon BirchallJune 2021
In February 2021, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government announced that the Building Safety Fund (BSF) would receive a further £3.5bn to the existing £1.6bn allocation. While this is a positive move to address the UK’s Cladding Crisis, some critics cite this as being too little too late and falling well short of the estimated £15bn required to replace combustible cladding. Equals Director Simon Birchall assesses some of the issues and practical solutions for the successful delivery of façade remediation projects.
The Grenfell tragedy has exposed fundamental fire and life safety issues for residential developments clad in combustible materials. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee (HCLGC) estimated the cost of repairing ‘all serious fire safety defects’ in high-risk residential buildings at up to £15bn, identifying some 2,000 residential buildings still clad in combustible cladding. The HCLGC called on the government to ‘ensure all buildings of any height’ with aluminium composite material (ACM) be fully remediated of all fire safety defects by December 2021, with all other high-risk buildings remediated by June 2022. This presents a significant but vital challenge for our industry to overcome.
Current BSF funding allocation £5.2bn
HCLGC estimated rectification cost £15bn
Residential buildings still clad in combustible cladding 2,000
Deadline for ACM removal Dec 2021
Deadline for high-risk buildings Jun 2022
The Building Safety fund
The impact to homeowners in high-risk buildings has been great, with many leaseholders bearing the financial burden of extensive preventative measures such as fire alarms, waking watches along with soaring insurance costs. This has resulted in many facing bills in the tens of thousands, unable to sell or lease their properties and some even enduring bankruptcy. The BSF was established to support tenants, residents and leaseholders with financial assistance and project delivery expertise to remediate combustible cladding where building owners are unable to.
The BSF has established a framework of advisors and contractors to assist building owners in assembling a project team and preparing an application for funding. The BSF application process identifies costs that are eligible for grant funding however, building owners may need to fund the replacement of non-eligible items. The aim is to secure appropriate funding from the BSF to allow the remediation works to progress. Funding is then released at a series of predetermined milestones. The goal and measure of project success is to obtain EWS 1 approval, which is a certification that the building façade has been rectified and is compliant.
Façade remediation is a growing sector within the construction industry. The market needs to adapt to meet what is a significant pipeline while drawing upon a limited number of suppliers, contractors and consultants. Capable experienced cladding contractors and fire consultants are very busy and securing their attention is not always guaranteed.
From our experience and lessons learned we can outline several key factors that will drive better outcomes.
Understanding the BSF process
The BSF application process has specific requirements and processes. Strategically designing the project execution and procurement process to meet these needs and deliver the required outcome is essential.
Every project is unique and differing levels of intervention or temporary works are required making comparative benchmarking difficult. Quantity surveyors may need to resort to first principles to estimate and validate the cost of the works.
Preliminary intrusive investigations can only provide a small picture of the likely level of remediation. Investment in surveys undertaken by fire and cladding experts can provide valuable information to understand the full extent of the remediation measures required.
Providing frequent communication and reassurance to leaseholders and residents is essential. Providing them with regular updates and understanding their needs will build their confidence and acceptance of the delivery team. They are personally vested and require consultation.
Time is critical!
Façade remediation projects need to be delivered rapidly to ensure the safety of the residents. Consequently, response, evaluation and execution activities need to be driven at a pace faster than is normal for conventional projects.
The volume of work required will compound an industry already suffering from skills shortages. Securing skilled and experiences contractors, consultants and materials will continue to prove challenging. Developing a capable and trusted supply chain is vital.
A risk management plan is important to ensure that the key project risks are identified, with management plans devised. Common key risks include fire during construction, planning approval, security, weather, material demand, labour supply, COVID 19, among many others.
With insurers seeking to limit exposure, obtaining the required levels of PI insurance and certification can be problematic. This should be reviewed early in the procurement process to ensure that participants have the capacity to perform their duties.
Understanding the BSF processes and creating a project execution plan to suit the unique nature of these projects is key to success.
At Equals we know and understand the requirements of the Building Safety Fund and the MHCLG having implemented and delivered to these processes. We can lead decisively to deliver the best possible outcome for this challenging and necessary work.