A group of local leaders, including Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, has pledged to continue work to remove unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings despite the Covid-19 lockdown.
The pledge came in response to concerns expressed by communities secretary Robert Jenrick that such work has slowed amid the health crisis.
“I have been deeply concerned that vital building safety work has significantly slowed down as a result of the pandemic,” Jenrick said in a statement to media on Thursday.
“I have been clear that work must resume to ensure the safety of residents living in buildings with unsafe cladding or with insufficient fire safety measures…I brought together mayors and local leaders to find a solution.”
The action to continue the crucial cladding replacement work aims to “reassure those living in high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding, that work to make their homes safe will be prioritised,” the statement from the Government said.
Manchester Cladiators, a residents group set up to lobby Whitehall to take action on the issue of unsafe cladding, especially after the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster, supported the decision.
Alex Di Guiseppe, a Castlefields resident and co-founder of Manchester Cladiators, said: “It is really positive that these essential works will continue during what is a difficult lockdown period.
“There are thousands of residents in Manchester living in unsafe buildings who need these issues to be quickly resolved not only for their own safety, but because they are paying significant sums for watch and insurances.
“They are unable to access affordable mortgages and the mental strain of being in lockdown in an unsafe building takes its toll.”
City Gate in Castlefield, where Di Guiseppe lives, is one of a number of buildings in Manchester in need of remediation work, while work to remove unsafe cladding from other properties including Cypress Place and Vallea Court in the city’s Green Quarter is already ongoing.
A Liverpool chapter of the Cladiators launched at the end of February.
In March, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced an additional £1bn fund to assist in the removal of all types of unsafe cladding, in addition to £200m already set aside for the remediation of Grenfell-style ACM cladding from buildings.
Jenrick said in his statement it is “entirely possible for this work to be done safely within health guidelines,” even while question marks hover over the practicalities of adhering to social distancing measures on building sites.
The announcement will provide some clarity for those who have criticised the Government for the ambiguity of its advice relating to the construction industry. Burnham, among others, has criticised the Government’s failure to provide definitive guidance on whether sites should stay open.
The Government has advised that construction sites can remain open “where possible” if guidance around social distancing can be followed, but has largely left the decision in the hands of individual companies.
Some firms have opted to remain operational under stricter safety protocol while others have closed sites.
Before the Budget was announced, several of the region’s property management companies, including Rendall & Rittner and Scanlans, signed an open letter to the Chancellor calling on the Government to “right the wrongs of the past” and provide more funding to remove potentially dangerous cladding from high-rise buildings.