Tests on cladding being carried out across England
Government says 600 high-rise buildings being examined
The British government is carrying out tests on 600 high-rise buildings across England that are covered in cladding, in response to the fire at Grenfell Tower, the 24-story apartment block that was gutted by a huge fire last week.
As of Thursday evening, combustible cladding has been found on at least seven tower blocks in the UK, according to 10 Downing Street.
Prime Minister Theresa May said Thursday that at least 100 buildings a day are being tested, with residents being informed of the findings.
Earlier, Downing Street had said that there were approximately 600 high-rise buildings with “similar cladding” to that used at Grenfell Tower in west London.
But hours later, the Department for Communities and Local Government clarified that the 600 figure was in reference to high-rise buildings covered in any type of cladding, rather than “similar” cladding to that at Grenfell.
“The situation is that 600 buildings have cladding – it is not similar (to Grenfell Tower), it is all types of cladding,” a spokesman for the DCLG said.
“Of these 600, we want landlords to check if they have ACM (aluminum composite material) cladding. Of those 600, some of those would have ACM; we want to test them to see if they have ACM.”
The Prime Minister told Parliament that a statement on the test results of the cladding samples taken from Grenfell Tower would be made in the next 48 hours.
Speculation has focused on the role that cladding apparently used in a recent refurbishment of the tower may have played in the fire, which appeared to spread quickly up the exterior.
May said that 151 homes were destroyed in the fire. She said that 164 properties have been found to house displaced residents and are currently undergoing inspection.
At least 79 people are dead or missing and presumed dead following the blaze that tore through the 24-story high-rise, home to 125 families, in the early hours of June 14.
“I know many others living in tall residential buildings will have concerns about their safety after what happened at Grenfell,” May said.
“All social landlords have been instructed to carry out additional fire safety checks on tower blocks and ensure the appropriate safety and response measures are in place.”
“We’ve also taken steps to make private landlords aware and make our checking facilities available to them for free.”
May also stressed that anyone affected by the fire would be able to access the extra facilities, including medical and financial advice being laid on by the government, regardless of their immigration status.
A local community center has been set up to help offer residents advice on healthcare, finance as well as provide new passports and driving licenses.
“I would like to reassure people that we will not use this tragic incident as a reason to carry out immigration checks on those involved or on those providing information to identify victims or those assisting with the criminal investigation,” she added.
“We will make sure that all victims, irrespective of their immigration status, will be able to access the services they need, including healthcare and accommodation.”
On Thursday, a spokesperson for the Department of Communities and local government told CNN that cladding used on buildings in the Camden area of London has been found to be combustible following tests.
Camden council said in a statement it will immediately remove the external cladding from the five tower blocks on the Chalcots estate.
The council says the cladding “significantly differs” from that on Grenfell Tower but was not fitted to the standard it had commissioned. “In light of this, we will be informing the contractor that we will be taking urgent legal advice.”
Chalcots residents said they were angered and frightened by the announcement.
“I cried when I heard the news, I was in shock. I still am shocked but along with the other residents I’m suffering a combination of shock and anger,” said Simon Morris.
Sayed Meah said he and other residents were not aware of any evacuation plan should there ever be a fire.
“We’ve never had any fire evacuation rules, any plans, any procedures, nothing. So we’re scared, we’re genuinely genuinely scared of our lives,” he said.
A spokesman for Camden Council said a decision to take the cladding off had already been made prior to the government’s announcement. Preparations for removal of the cladding from the five affected towers began Thursday. The council also is adding new safety measures, including 24/7 patrols in corridors, safety testing and smoke alarms, and testing for fire doors, he said.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the latest developments confirmed “people’s worst fears that there is a real risk that other tower blocks across Britain are at risk from combustible cladding.”
Council chief resigns
Earlier Thursday, the chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea council, where Grenfell Tower is located, resigned from his post.
Nicholas Holgate said that he had been asked to step down from his role by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid.
His resignation, which was welcomed by the Prime Minister, comes after accusations that the council failed to deal with the aftermath of the disaster.
On Wednesday, May apologized for the government’s failure to offer residents adequate support in the hours after the blaze. “That was a failure of the state – local and national – to help people when they needed it most,” she said.
Her statement spelled out further how the residents will be helped. The measures include:
- Each family to receive a down payment from emergency fund
- Everyone to be rehoused within three weeks
- An independent public inquiry to be chaired by a judge
- All those with an interest, including the survivors and victims’ families, to be consulted and help with legal costs provided.
May said it was clear that the local authority, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, could not cope with the disaster and that steps would be taken to improve future efforts.
Luxury apartment complex
As efforts continue to find permanent housing for those made homeless by the fire, the government said Wednesday that 68 apartments in a luxury London housing complex in Kensington Row would be allocated to Grenfell Tower residents.
The acquisition of the flats, built as new social housing within the swish development, was a “significant step” toward meeting its promise of rehousing families from Grenfell Tower within the local area, it said in a news release.
Prices for apartments in the complex, located about 1½ miles south of Grenfell Tower in a highly desirable area, start at £1.6 million ($2 million) for private buyers, according to Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Photographs of show apartments for sale highlight their plush interiors and extensive views over London.
The homes acquired by the government will be a mix of one, two and three bedroom flats across two blocks, the news release said.
Extra construction staff have been taken on in a bid to get the social housing apartments ready as soon as possible, it added, with work due to be finished by the end of July.
CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark, Angela Dewan, Simon Cullen and Lindsay Isaac contributed to this article.