LONDON (Reuters) - Britain said it would give an additional 3.5 billion pounds ($4.8 billion) to remove dangerous cladding on high-rise residential buildings, more than three years after flammable cladding was blamed for a deadly tower block fire in London.
More than 70 people died in the 2017 blaze at Grenfell Tower, a 23-storey social housing block in west London, shocking Britain and sparking an inquisition about how the building had been allowed to become a tinderbox.
The cladding used on the block was identified as central to the rapid spread of the fire, and has since been found on buildings across the country, necessitating expensive removal or round-the-clock fire watches.
In the face of prolonged criticism that much of the remediation work has been too slow or non-existent and huge costs were being heaped onto leaseholders, the government on Wednesday tripled its financial support package.
"This means the government is providing more than 5 billion pounds including a further 3.5 billion pounds announced today," housing minister Robert Jenrick told parliament.
He said the funds would go towards the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding for all leaseholders in high rise residential buildings of 18 metres or above, and residents would not have to pay towards the removal.
To help pay for the support, the government announced a new tax on the residential property development sector that should raise 2 billion pounds over 10 years from 2022, and a separate levy on developers building high rise blocks.
However, those in lower rise building were not covered by the package and would instead have to finance the work through loans. Jenrick said the cost of this loan scheme would not exceed 50 pounds per month.
Campaigner Paul Afshar said leaseholders felt betrayed by the loan scheme: "We were hoping for a solution to stop the sleepless nights and, for millions living in buildings less than 18m, there has been none."
(Reporting by William James; writing by Kate Holton; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Andy Bruce)