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Grenfell: the cost to councils

The fire which tore through Grenfell Tower in Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council cost the lives of at least 79 people. Now expert testing suggests that the government and local authorities may face costs of more than £600m, if similar disasters are to be avoided in the future.

Finding the cause

The latest assumptions suggest that external cladding tiles used to add energy-efficient insulation layers to Grenfell Tower in 2015-16 were highly flammable. This meant that the fire spread quickly across the whole building, with firefighters unable to stop it.

In the immediate aftermath of the blaze, the government called on councils across the UK to send in material samples from tower block to test their combustibility.

Making changes

Many councils have already responded and 60 buildings have so far been earmarked for cladding replacement, with 540 still to test. Some estimates suggest around £1m per building should be budgeted for the task, but experts say that total costs are likely to rise significantly.

As well as housing blocks, NHS hospitals are also poised for similar fire safety testing. If residents or services must be evacuated and re-housed for the process, and local services prepared for the worst case scenario, it’s estimated that the final bill could exceed £600m.

Covering the costs

Housing Minister Alok Sharma has confirmed that the government has a £5m pot to provide relief to Grenfell survivors and that it supports councils conducting emergency evacuations as a result of safety testing. However, he has yet to confirm how much funding will be available for fire safety improvements, or if the government will assist with all related costs.

As the Local Government Association (LGA) states, many councils are already dedicating time and manpower to supporting landlords when tests on their cladding fail. Furthermore, as well as considering the issue of evacuation, some councils are already employing 24-hour wardens in some properties.

In order to cover costs, councils must be diligent in pressing on central government to deliver on promises of support, but also in ensuring that cash flow remains consistent and that funds are available to provide the most robust response possible.

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