Eric Curran

Why getting cladding right must not cause property blight

The Grenfell Tower tragedy horrified Britain, and our legislators — quite rightly and commendably —have concentrated their minds on putting in place new rules and regulations which will ensure that such appalling misery is never allowed to occur again.

But, as is so often the case, hasty responses are not necessarily the right responses and I am genuinely concerned that an intolerable situation is developing which has the potential to create a whole new set of victims — this time financial ones.

The issue stems from Housing Ministry advice covering fire safety and, in particular, cladding systems.

This creates a dilemma for chartered surveyors who are neither skilled nor equipped to rule on these matters simply by carrying out a visual inspection. If clarity on the subject is unavailable, they have no choice in England and Wales but to apply a nil value to the property.

The effect in both cases is the same: surveyors cannot value comprehensively until the paperwork covering the technical specification for cladding is provided. If it cannot be provided, the property is blighted, with the knock-on effect of people not being able to sell.

Zero valuations and consequent blight are causing increasing concern among brokers, particularly in London. To complicate matters, the Scottish government has adopted the UK advice wholesale and is to introduce legislation on the use of cladding for new-build property greater than 11 metres, approximately four storeys. 

In addition, lenders have taken the advice on board in its most literal form and are increasingly adamant that, for mortgage purposes, zero value will be the bottom line unless the compliance confirmation is forthcoming. The onus is on the seller.

Chartered surveyors, at the coal face in this complex situation, find themselves in the uncomfortable position of reporting cladding issues using different criteria, since no official guidance has been issued.

As professionals, they are straining every sinew to find a solution and, while they cannot provide advice, they can expertly advise and interpret once the relevant information is in their possession.

I believe some PI insurers have also been running for the hills since Grenfell, adding onerous exclusion clauses to developers and constructors. If these exclusion clauses are extended to the survey and valuation sector of the profession, the valuation of properties with cladding may well grind to a halt.

As I suggested at the start, I am sure the guidance was proposed with the best of intentions, but in practical terms it is ill-conceived, ill-considered and increasingly difficult to implement. It is time to revisit it.

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