Michael Gove has threatened a UK trade ban on manufacturers of combustible cladding and insulation unless they pay to fix hazardous housing.
Opening a new front in the government’s bid to force the construction industry to fix multibillion-pound fire safety flaws, the Secretary of State for Settlement, Housing and Communities has given companies a March deadline to agree on a settlement.
In a letter to the industry, Goff highlighted more than £700m in profits generated over the past four years by the three companies most closely associated with the Grenfell disaster – likely Arconic, Celotex and Kingspan, which made combustible and insulating cladding panels. Foam on Grenfell Tower, where a fire in June 2017 killed 72 people.
He described the “extremely disturbing” evidence uncovered by the Grenfell Tower public inquiry about how companies manufacture, test and market their combustible materials.
Goff told the Building Products Association in a letter: “The total contribution from the cladding and insulation sector should account for a significant portion of your total repair costs, caused by the hazardous products sold by some of your members.
“I am presenting an opportunity, between now and March, for the sector to work with my ministry through open and transparent negotiations to agree on a settlement that will restore confidence and secure an appropriate contribution from the sector.”
If they fail to pay, he said, he would consider “using our regulatory framework to limit any guilty company from operating and selling products in this country in the future.”
He added, “I will go after those individuals and companies responsible for building defects who don’t want to do the right thing now. There is no future for those companies and managers who are not fully committed to keeping residents safe and fixing the mistakes of the past.”
The investigation heard that a senior executive at Arconic, which makes Grenfell’s polyethylene (PE) filled cladding panels, warned colleagues in 2016: “We really need to stop proposing PE in architecture! We’re in the ‘know.'”
When Kingspan, which makes some combustible insulation, tested its foam insulation in 2007, the rig became “a raging hell.” Celotex, which manufactures most insulation materials, knew in 2013 that “in the event of a fire [its insulation] It will burn,” the investigation heard.
The government said removing the hazardous cladding could cost more than £9 billion. This month, Gove promised in Parliament that the government would give tenants legal protections that extend to all work required to make buildings safe.
Goff’s move came after he met home builders last week to also demand payment. He was met with a counter-demand that the government also target material companies.
Tenants affected by the kiswa crisis welcomed the latest steps. UK Cladding Action Group, which represents thousands of people whose homes are becoming worthless and facing family bills of up to £200,000, said: “These companies have deep pockets and will struggle tooth and nail to remain irresponsible for their failures. We support the Minister as he works to protect innocent tenants from the failures of others.
Arconic declined to comment. She has previously said that the main cause of the Grenfell tragedy was the “failure of those responsible for renovating the tower”.
Kingspan and Celotex have been contacted for comment. Kingspan previously said he “welcomes the plans for industry dialogue and the useful clarity it should provide to all stakeholders”. Celotex previously admitted to “unacceptable behavior on the part of a number of former employees”.