Nearly 600 homes across Barnet found to have unsafe cladding following Finchley fire

Barnet Council earmarks £3.6m to remove cladding on 586 homes following borough-wide investigation, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

Barnet Council has agreed to replace cladding in 586 homes after a fire at Moss Hall Grove (inset) last year
Barnet Council has agreed to replace cladding in 586 homes after a fire at Moss Hall Grove (inset) last year

Barnet Council is set to spend £3.6million to remove unsafe cladding on almost 600 homes.

Following a fire in June last year which destroyed a row of four terraced homes at Moss Hall Grove in North Finchley, the cladding on the properties was highlighted as a risk.

An inspection of properties was subsequently carried out which found 586 homes in the borough had timber-framed and uPVC cladding which needed replacing.

Of the homes, 153 are council-owned, seven are leasehold and 426 are freehold.

During a cabinet meeting yesterday (Tuesday 12th) councillors voted on a package which allotted £3.6m to the council-owned properties and £13million to cover upfront cost of works to freehold properties.

Ross Houston, the council’s cabinet member for homes and regeneration, introduced the report and said surveys would commence across the 586 homes to establish the level of work that needed to be done.

The council will pay for the surveys and has offered all the affected residents a smoke alarm. Cllr Houston reiterated there was only a risk should there be a fire and that the cladding itself wasn’t a fire risk. 

He said people could live in the houses while the work was being carried out and there wasn’t “immediate danger”. 

For freeholders and leaseholders, their options are to either to organise their own remedial work, or have the council do the work for them and pay the money back via a loan or repayment plan. 

Cllr Houston said the council was “putting in steps” to ensure loans were at “as low a rate” as the council could get. 

He added in cases of hardship, the council was prepared to look at other options, acknowledging they would have to find “different solutions for different residents”. 

Sara Conway, a cabinet member and ward councillor for Burnt Oak, the most impacted ward, asked for assurance the council was taking “measures” to keep “costs down” for homeowners. 

Belinda Livesey, head of housing regulatory services, said the offer being made was to use the contractor the council had obtained for the council tenants. 

She said having the council organise planning permission, building control approval, and the contractor, she hoped this would take “some of the pain” out of a difficult situation for residents.

Cllr Conway asked if residents could be assured the work needed doing, but Belinda said she could “almost 100% guarantee” work would not be done that wasn’t necessary.

She said: “This is not a situation the council wants to be in, in relation to these freeholders. It’s not a comfortable position for the local authority.

“If there’s any cases where we don’t have to be involved with residents, putting them through these difficult and personal conversations and situations then we will not be doing that with people.”

She said sample inspections had been done, but properties were due to be looked at on a “case-by-case” basis. 

Ammar Naqvi, another cabinet member who is also a councillor for Burnt Oak ward, said in terms of the freehold households, in Burnt Oak there were six times the amount than the second and third most affected wards of West Finchley and Totteridge and Woodside.

He said if you added up the freehold households affected in the rest of the borough it accounted for “one third” of those affected in Burnt Oak. 

Cllr Naqvi added that he hoped communications would be regular over the “journey” of this project. 

Cllr Houston said it was important residents collaborated with the council, speaking to the dedicated team members to discuss issues as early as possible. 

Belinda said the next batch of FAQs would be sent out today (Wednesday 13th) and a dedicated webpage would have updates along with a dedicated email and phone line which could provide information.

Susan Curran, head of strategic housing, said the team would be happy to meet with residents should they want to hold a meeting on the issue, which Cllr Houston seconded. 

Asked what the timeline would be for the delivery of work, Belinda said they would try and work towards a timeline, but said it will “elongate” if they didn’t have residents working with them. 

Elliott Sweetman, group director development and property, encouraged residents to meet individually or in small groups at the council’s Colindale office to help “build up a picture” and “build a rapport early on”. 

Belinda said the council had “no desire” to take enforcement action against residents who refused and emphasised they would make enforcement decisions on a case-by-case basis and were not “charging head long” into this.

In terms of reducing concerns, Susan said there were several other avenues affected residents could explore to get more information. She said the council was in the process of trying to engage with an “independent resident advisor” to support residents, which was hoped to be in place in the “next few days”.

She said they had meetings in the next few weeks with Age UK, Boost, and Citizens Advice Bureau to brief them to ensure they could “provide support as well”.

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