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Grenfell: Focus falls on private sector high-rises

In the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, much of the focus has been on the condition of the UK’s publicly owned housing stock. 

Councils have been called on by the government to assess whether buildings on their patch have combustible cladding.

But what about the private sector? 

More than half (55 per cent) of high-rise towers are owned and operated by private landlords.

This figure was quoted by housing lawyer Tim Waitt at a specially convened meeting on Grenfell, held at RIBA last week.

Mr Waitt called for an “urgent review” of the private sector in conjunction with the review being carried out of council-owned buildings.

“In my experience it’s a fallacy that the public sector is worse (on fire standards) than the private sector,” Mr Waitt said.

The government has said the BRE is carrying out tests for private landlords as well as social housing.

But the DCLG has so far today been unable to tell me how many of the 190 buildings that have so far failed tests are privately owned. 

Astonishingly, the 190 figure still represents a 100 per cent failure rate on buildings so far tested. It has been suggested that the most at-risk buildings will have been prioritised for testing.

Nevertheless this still raises eyebrow. As BBC journalist Andrew Neil tweeted yesterday: “Scandal of our times”.

Salford Council – which reportedly has the highest number of tower blocks that have failed cladding tests (29) – was also unable to confirm to me how many privately owned buildings have been tested.

Camden Council – which has also been in the spotlight – has also been unable to tell me how many privately owned tower blocks have been checked. 

Though there does not appear to be quite the same co-ordinated effort to check privately owned high rises, there is evidence it is happening.

One London-based developer I have spoken to has carried out checks on all its buildings in the wake of Grenfell. 

Housing associations appear to be doing their bit. Salford-based Salix Homes has stripped cladding from eight of its tower blocks. Separately, eight blocks refurbished by Wates Living Space have also had their cladding removed.

And London-based L&Q has been carrying out a review of its estate and has sent away cladding from a “couple” of its developments for checks.

But as 10 Downing Street said previously it does not plan to force private landlords to check buildings.

Former BPF chief Liz Peace told me last month that she believes new-build high rises are being built to the “most stringent” standards. 

But, as Grenfell has shown, it’s on older buildings where refurbishments have been done that the danger appears to lie. 

One can only hope that private developers are fulfilling their obligations when it comes to checking their properties.

If you have information to share on post-Grenfell issues, email me at: james.wilmore@emap.com 

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