Developer Persimmon has vowed to set aside £75m ($104m) to fix potentially unsafe cladding on its buildings, as the government prepares a new bailout to help tackle the cladding scandal.
UK housing secretary Robert Jenrick is due to address MPs on Wednesday, and is widely expected to promise billions of pounds more help for building owners and leaseholders to cover cladding safety costs.
The housebuilder announced on Wednesday that cladding on 26 buildings it constructed may need to be removed under safety rules introduced in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster. Flammable cladding panels helped the fire spread, with 72 people losing their lives.
Persimmon said it would lead cladding remediation and safety work where it still owns affected buildings. For buildings it has sold, it will work with owners to “make sure they meet their legal responsibilities” and provide technical support.
"At Persimmon we believe we have a clear duty to act to address this issue,” said chairman Roger Devlin. “If the owner does not step up then we will act to remove uncertainty and anxiety for residents and make the buildings safe.”
Persimmon said cladding “may need to be removed” under government guidance on nine high-rise buildings, and required investigation to assess risk on 17 smaller buildings. The company is now writing to building owners and management companies.
Devlin added that he hoped the actions demonstrated the company’s values. Persimmon has been trying to improve its reputation in recent years after controversy over the quality of its homes. A review it commissioned last year said it “cannot afford the stigma of a corporate culture which results in poor workmanship and a potentially unsafe product.”
But Persimmon stressed it had not been a major developer of high-rise buildings, estimating its works account for under 1% of all such blocks. Its multi-storey buildings which did use cladding that “may now be required unsafe” had met all fire safety rules at the time of construction.
It comes on the same day the government was expected to unveil new help to resolve the wider cladding scandal. Ministers have come under enormous pressure, including from Conservative MPs, over the safety worries, large bills and difficulties selling facing many leaseholders in properties with potentially dangerous materials.
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The government has so far resisted calls to cover all retrospective safety work required to meet tighter regulations and guidance it introduced in the wake of the Grenfell disaster.
But Wednesday’s announcement marks the latest in a line of cave-ins to pressure to do more, with 165 high-rise blocks still awaiting safety work and many more smaller buildings affected.
The government initially pledged only to cover aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding removal in the social housing sector, then vowed £200m for the private sector, and in 2020 announced £1bn on a first-come, first-served basis. MPs estimate the true cost could run to £15bn.