Irwin Mitchell’s Cladding Webinar Discusses Future Landscape Of Cladding For Businesses And Leaseholders
Experts at an Irwin Mitchell webinar today agreed that the cladding crisis is one of the most “significant and complex issues in the residential property world” and one that will take many years to resolve.
The debate took place following the announcement by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick last month that a further £3.5bn grant would be made available for dangerous cladding systems on buildings over 18m.
Construction, planning and residential property specialists at Irwin Mitchell were joined by architect Brendan Geraghty, in-house lawyer Eyvind Andresen and barrister Simon Allison for their expert views on the cladding crisis and its future in an interactive debate, which saw hundreds of attendees.
Who Is To Blame?
The blame game was a key feature of the debate: the current situation is the result of multiple factors including deregulation and a lack of joined-up thinking in the way we have designed and approved our buildings.
- Going forward architects need to understand the full scope of what they are designing and why -and the materials to be used in delivery. The dangers of ACM cladding had been known for years. Subsequent owners and occupiers must be able to have full trust in buildings in the future.
- The culture of the construction industry and the way it deals with risk- passing risk down the contractual chain without anyone looking at the whole picture has contributed to a complex and problematic picture.
- The lack of a joined-up approach between the planning process and building regulations. Planning is primarily concerned with the aesthetics of a building - not the safety. Materials used are signed off by the planning officer, primarily on what they look like – and are not discussed at the Planning Committee. As Claire Petricca-Riding of Irwin Mitchell said, “We need greater scrutiny in the planning process from the beginning.”
- Allocating responsibility is a complex area. Building owners may be some way down the chain from the initial builders or owners of the building. Not all buildings are owned by wealth pension funds or PE investors - some blocks are owned by the residents themselves without the funds to pay for remediation.
Who Should Bear Costs?
- In terms of government measures the panel agreed that the current pot of £5 billion put aside by the government to fund the remediation is not enough, with a figure of at least three times that suggested as to be needed. The panel called for a simplified process that’s easier to access.
- There was sympathy for the view that the Government should just perhaps undertake the whole initial cost of remediation and sort out responsibility later, particularly as otherwise remediation might take years to complete.
- There was agreement that there should be every attempt to protect leaseholders from unmanageable costs. Leaseholders were encouraged to sit tight, not to forfeit their leases and to hope the government funding will reach them; and that future payments would be manageable.
- One light at the end of the tunnel is that some developers are now stepping forward and accepting some responsibility. Following the additional funding in February and introduction of a developers’ levy, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey have publicly announced they are putting aside money for remediation of some of the buildings they have built.
As Jeremy Raj, national head of Residential Property at Irwin Mitchell concluded: “This is a complex picture and one solution does not solve all. We may be looking at years to get to the bottom of this unless the Government decides to provide more funding and enable easier access to it.”
“Going forward, we have all agreed that we need more joined-up thinking when we create new properties - from design to planning and construction, rather than professionals working in silos.
“We also should take advantage of new technologies in design, for there to be more rigorous testing and for wider parties to be held to account throughout the process.
“Currently the government is encouraging greater conversion of office buildings to residential under the new Class E use class. If this goes ahead it is essential that ESG issues are thought about properly and that as an industry we see a culture change in working together.
“We need to start thinking about the end user, the customer who buys the homes we are creating and to make sure they can rely not only on the aesthetics, but on the highest standards of safety as well.”
A full report will be issued following the webinar at the end of March.