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‘Painfully slow’ progress on cladding crisis as just £40m spent in one month from pot of billions

<p>Damage to a 19-storey tower block in New Providence Wharf, Canary Wharf, following a fire earlier in May</p> (PA)

Damage to a 19-storey tower block in New Providence Wharf, Canary Wharf, following a fire earlier in May


Ministers today faced accusations of making "painfully slow" progress towards tackling the cladding crisis after just £40 million was handed out from a multibillion-pound government safety fund in a month.

Almost four years on from the Grenfell disaster hundreds of thousands of people are still living in tall buildings covered in combustible panels that must be removed to meet new fire standards.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced in February that the Government will provide a total of £3.5 billion to underwrite the huge costs of stripping flammable material from blocks over 18 metres tall to avoid the bill falling on leaseholders.

However, latest figures from the so-called Building Safety Fund show the distribution of money has virtually ground to a halt. The total awarded to owners of buildings in both the social and private sectors increased by just £40 million from £319 million to £359 million in April.

Of the 2,820 privately owned buildings that have been registered with the fund — of which 1,628 are in London — just 76 have had their applications fully approved with only £172.1 million of funding signed off. The fund covers buildings with potentially dangerous cladding different to the Grenfell-style aluminium composite material that created the fire storm that killed 72 people on the night of June 14 2017.

Steven Truman, director of Cladding Consulting, which advises on applications to the fund, said: “They should be into the billions by now, it’s just so slow.”

The lack of progress has raised fears that leaseholders and tenants will be exposed to risk for far longer than necessary, particularly in the wake of the fire at the New Providence Wharf development in Docklands this month.

Leaseholders in the development had been waiting for more than two years to see flammable cladding removed when the blaze broke out.

Tower Hamlets has 293 buildings registered with the fund, more than any other local authority area in Britain.

Lucy Brown, from Tower Hamlets Justice for Leaseholders, bought her flat in the borough seven years ago. She said: “Our building applied in June and we still don’t know whether we will get funding. It is just entirely unacceptable for it to take this long.”

In London, other boroughs with large numbers of registered blocks include Newham (136), Westminster (125), Southwark (121) and Greenwich (100).

The figures also show huge numbers of registrations have stalled because they are “ineligible” (407), only provided partial information (324) or had supplied “no basic information” (817).

Businessman Martin Gerhard lives in the Barratt Homes development in Kennington. He said: “One of our blocks has been turned down for being one storey too short. Another four blocks haven’t heard back about whether they will receive funds. We have gone through a year of lockdown, which was bad enough, then to hear about delays like this is just deplorable. Seeing things like the fire at New Providence Wharf sends a shiver down your spine.”

Mr Truman said that the fund’s June deadline for applications and a September cut-off for the start of work was creating a bottleneck. He said: “The deadlines are unrealistic and there aren’t enough contractors to do the work.”

The Government said: “We are progressing applications to the safety fund as quickly as possible. It is disappointing so many building owners have been unable to provide the basic information we need to progress their applications.”

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