Jonathan Lynn, partner of Courtyard Solicitors, in Wimbledon and specialist in the legal issues between Landlords & Tenants, and housing disrepair, gives his opinion to the issue of cladding on council blocks and its removal.
Following the Grenfell Tower disaster there is a great deal of removal of cladding from Tower Blocks around the country.
Why was cladding fitted in the first place?
Cladding was put up for two mains reasons. Firstly, and least importantly, there are the aesthetic reasons. It is felt by some that concrete is not very pleasing to look at and that putting up cladding can improve the appearance of a block. Precisely whose benefit this is for is sometimes unclear. Is it to improve the environment of the social housing tenants or to improve the view for their neighbours? No one has suggested improving the look of the luxury blocks in the Barbican by fitting cladding.
The second and most important reason for putting up cladding - and by the far the most important - is to improve the performance of the building.
The main beneficial effect of cladding is to improve thermal insulation. Flats in blocks can be very exposed to wind and rain. Cladding provides an outer layer of protection for the exterior of the block which may provide extra protection from wind and rain.
What are the adverse consequences of removing cladding?
If cladding is removed then flats are likely to become colder and harder to heat. Fuel bills will rise for tenants and and as the walls become colder so the risk of condensation will increase. Condensation forms when wet air comes into contact with a cold surface.
This can have serious health consequences. Increased moisture will stimulate dust mite activity which can cause health problems. Mould is often associated with condensation and the spores from flowering mould can be a potent allergen capable of triggering asthma. Living in cold conditions is also unhealthy, increasing vulnerability to a number of health problems.
Any defects on the exterior of the block exposed or caused by the removal of cladding may lead to further drops in thermal insulation and may lead to water penetrating properties in the block.
In order to avoid these potential problems first the local authority needs to exercise care to make sure that the cladding is removed carefully without causing any damage to the building. If any damage is caused this must be fixed. There has to be doubt whether in the current financial climate and in the current rush to get as much cladding off as quickly ass possible sufficient care will be taken.
Attention also needs to be paid the flats inside the block. It may be that the heating provision needs to be improved, or that thermal insulation is needed or that extra ventilation must be installed to avoid the risks of cold and condensation. Again there has to be doubt that this will be carried out.
If local authorities do not act carefully and keep an eye on the risks associated with removal of cladding that they will be faced with considerable expense in the future as the problems mount up over time.