A London council has announced plans to replace cladding on nearly 600 low-rise houses in its borough, in a multi-million-pound scheme that it believes will be the first of its kind in the country.

Safety issues with the cladding on over 580 terraced homes came to the attention of Barnet Council following a serious house fire in one of the properties in the summer of 2023.

Following an investigation, it was found the UPVC cladding installed on the exterior of the properties allowed the fire to spread quickly to neighbouring homes. Along with the timber frame of these buildings and fire stop issues, they no longer meet more stringent post-Grenfell building standards.

The council has now written to all affected residents, detailing plans to replace the cladding on 153 council-owned homes, in a £3.6m scheme.

Alongside this, it’s offering the 426 freeholders and seven leaseholders a package of works to replace the cladding, as well as a loan and repayment plan to freeholders to manage the cost.

The council is also alerting other local authorities to the problem and is writing to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Greater London Authority to see what support can be provided to help homeowners facing huge costs for replacing out-of-date cladding on their properties.

Cllr Ross Houston, Deputy Council Leader and Cabinet Member for Homes and Regeneration, said he feared other homeowners in similar properties across the country could be similarly affected by this type of cladding.

He said: “The council will cover the cost for replacing cladding on its social housing stock but homeowners will unfortunately need to fund remediation for their own properties. The cost of replacing the cladding on each property could be up to £23,000 so to help we are organising* a loan and a repayment plan for those who need it, but we’re really limited on what we can do.

“We believe the 586 affected homes in Barnet are just the tip of the iceberg across the country. We’re sharing details with other local authorities and DLUHC as clearly there is need for a national plan to raise awareness and work out how best to support homeowners.”

The 586 affected properties were built between the 1930s and 1960s and are timber-framed one or two-storey terraced houses, with original timber cladding or UPVC cladding installed in the 1980s. The privately-owned homes were purchased through the government’s Right to Buy scheme. The houses are located in four areas across the borough.

The investigation last summer was conducted by building consultants, Capital, at the request of Barnet Homes (the council’s arm’s length management organisation for council properties).

Alongside the timber frame of these buildings and fire stopping issues, the cladding constituted a Category 1 hazard. This is the highest risk, where the council has a legal duty to take action.

Capital have confirmed that the works to the council homes cannot be completed without works to other properties in the terrace being completed in tandem.

The works are estimated to cost up to £23,000, depending on the size of the property.

Letters have gone out to all homeowners and occupiers of the properties letting them know that whilst their homes contain a significant hazard, there’s no imminent risk to occupiers. Fire safety advice has been provided, and battery powered smoke detectors are being offered at no cost to all affected residents.

Any property identified as being of a higher priority because of its construction or because of the occupier’s mobility issues will be prioritised for work completion.

A report to cabinet is recommending offering a loan and repayment plan to homeowners who opt to commission the council to undertake the refit.

As well as other local authorities and national and regional government, Barnet Council has briefed London Fire Brigade, housing associations and housing bodies such as the Regulator of Social Housing to ensure they are aware of the cladding issue on this type of property.

Cllr Ross Houston added: “Ours is an inherited problem relating to buildings constructed and adapted a long time ago. We recognise how hard this will be for all the homeowners who will be faced with an unexpected bill for works, but we have a legal duty to act, and the safety of our residents must come first.”