The Scottish Government has come under increased pressure to address the building cladding crisis after UK Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced an additional £3.5bn fund to fix high-rise buildings in England.
As trailed yesterday, he described the cash grants to leaseholders in residential buildings over 18 metres tall as the “largest ever government investment in building safety”, while loans will also be available to fix similar problems in buildings less than 18 metres tall.
Property owners across the UK were faced with zero valued mortgage ratings due to fire risks discovered in cladding materials following the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017, in which 72 residents died.
The latest package is in addition to £1.6bn that was made available for remediations by the government last year.
It means that the Scottish Government should receive around an extra £300m in consequentials, added to the nearly £100m received last year – which has not yet been used.
Katherine Metcalfe, a health and safety specialist and legal director at law firm Pinsent Masons, said: “While the problem is less prevalent in Scotland, it still exists, and the Scottish Government will now come under increased pressure to provide equivalent funding in Scotland so that residents are safe in their homes.”
Housing Minister Kevin Stewart responded that he was looking forward to seeing some detail from the UK Government on consequentials for Scotland.
“I am very concerned by the difficulties being faced by people living in buildings with external wall cladding, who have concerns about safety, or who are unable to buy, sell or remortgage their homes and I understand the anxiety that this is causing,” he stated.
“The Scottish Government has been clear that we need to take a different approach to the first-come, first-served approach in England – to assess overall need and ensure that the limited funding we have is used to greatest effect.
“It is important that developers take their responsibility for cladding problems seriously, and some developers in Scotland are stepping up to support homeowners – we have a duty to look after public money and to consider the most appropriate support we can offer in Scotland.”
Stewart continued that he would not take an approach that sees public money running out.
“While I, of course, understand that if you are a resident in a flat with cladding that this will be small consolation, it is my duty to act in the public interest, secure value for money and that every penny of funding for remediation in Scotland reaches those that need it most.
“We have not and will not repeat the mistakes made elsewhere of allocating funding before it is clear where and what the overall need is,” he added, arguing that Holyrood is taking a more logical approach of establishing the scale of the issue first.
“Experience from those buildings where remediation is underway shows that this needs a long-term and sustainable plan.”
In light of concerns over suitability for mortgages, the government previously introduced an ESW1 form to ensure buildings over 18 metres tall could be assessed for safety to allow lenders to offer mortgages.
Metcalfe said: “The restrictions announced on when a form EWS1 is needed to confirm the fire safety risk posed by external cladding, are also likely to be applied by lenders in Scotland – it is to be hoped that this will reduce the problems currently being experienced when buying or remortgaging residential property.”
The High Rise Inventory compiled last year by the Scottish Government found that of the 774 buildings more than 18 metres tall, half had no sprinkler systems, while more than 50 had the type of cladding which contributed to the Grenfell fire.
Derek MacDonald, joint managing director at Glasgow-headquartered factoring firm Newton Property Management, said it is imperative that the available cash is used for a remediation scheme.
“In Scotland, under the freehold method of homeownership, homeowners have to appoint who they want to access this cash.
“However, such a scheme also needs to be overseen by every local authority in Scotland and their building control.”
MacDonald noted that the newly-announced funding still might not be enough to solve the cladding issue, due to the sheer number of flats that it affects – not least of all those in blocks under 18 metres.