24 Jun 2017

London: Hundreds of homes evacuated over fire risk fears

4:29 pm on 24 June 2017

More than 800 homes in tower blocks on a council estate in Camden, north London, have been evacuated because of fire safety concerns.

A resident talks on a mobile phone as he leaves the Burnham Tower residential block on the Chalcots Estate in north London on June 23, 2017 after being evacuated because of fire safety concerns.

A resident leaves the Burnham Tower residential block on the Chalcots Estate in north London after being evacuated because of fire safety concerns. Photo: AFP

Camden Council said people in five towers on the Chalcots estate were moved for "urgent fire safety works".

The council said it was booking hotels but 100 residents are spending the night on air beds in a leisure centre.

The estate's cladding is similar to Grenfell Tower in west London, where at least 79 people died this month.

Camden Council said it would remove external thermal cladding from five tower blocks on the Chalcots estate.

It also said there were concerns about the insulation of gas pipes going into flats, and fire doors.

The council initially announced the evacuation of one tower block, Taplow, but later extended the move to all five tower blocks it had checked.

Residents of the estate attended a public meeting with council officials on Thursday evening.

(L-R) The Taplow and Bray residential tower blocks on the Chalcots Estate are pictured in north London on June 23, 2017.

The Taplow, left, and Bray residential tower blocks on the Chalcots Estate. Photo: AFP

The council leader, Labour's Georgia Gould, said the fire service "told us they could not guarantee our residents' safety in those blocks".

Some residents said the first they heard of the evacuation was on the news.

The council has secured 270 hotel rooms so far. Emergency accommodation was set up at Swiss Cottage leisure centre and at the Camden Centre in King's Cross.

"We're encouraging all residents to stay with friends and family if they can, otherwise we'll provide accommodation," the council said.

"I know it's difficult, but Grenfell changes everything and I just don't believe we can take any risk with our residents' safety and I have to put them first," Ms Gould said.

Camden Council said officials had been knocking on the doors of the towers one at a time for safety reasons - starting at Taplow and followed by Burnham, Bray, Blashford and Dorney.

Residents will be allowed in at the weekend to collect more possessions under escort from the fire brigade.

Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted: "My thoughts are with residents being evacuated in Camden while their homes are made safe tonight."

She said the government was "offering every support we can" to residents and officials working at the estate.

Speaking to the Press Association, resident Michelle Urquhart said: "It's a bit frightening.

"I don't know where we are going to go. I'm so angry because we had the meeting with the council last night and they tried to reassure us.

"We have been living in these flats for the last 10 years with this cladding."

Teacher Kim Price, who lives in Blashford tower with her 14-year-old son, said: "At 4pm today they said it would be okay and that all the checks were fine.

"And now all of a sudden the news is saying we should get out.

"We've had two letters in two days saying 'you're not safe' then 'you're safe'. I don't really know what to do."

Edward Strange, who lives in an 11th floor flat with his wife and young daughter, said the evacuation was a "complete overreaction".

He told the BBC there had been two previous fires in the block which were easily contained.

"I've got a young daughter, a wife and a cat, I've also got a job. They said it'd take four to six weeks. If the council says four to six weeks it'll take four to six months."

Ahmed Mohamed, 19, who lives in Taplow tower with his parents and two sisters, said they were alerted by a neighbour at 20:15 that they needed to leave.

"We only had five minutes to get our stuff," he said.

'Temporarily decanted'

Camden's leader, Georgia Gould, said London Fire Brigade had completed a joint inspection of the blocks with Camden Council technical experts.

It was decided the flats needed to be "temporarily decanted ... so that residents can be fully assured of their safety".

Ms Gould said the work is expected to take three to four weeks.

Camden Council agreed a contract with Rydon Construction - the same firm that oversaw the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower - to refurbish the Chalcots Estate in May 2006 at a cost of £66m.

Friday night's announcement came as the Metropolitan Police said the Grenfell Tower fire started in a fridge-freezer, and outside cladding and insulation failed safety tests.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said 14 residential high-rise buildings in nine local authority areas have now been found with cladding that raises safety concerns.

A DCLG spokesman said: "Camden Council and the Fire and Rescue Service are rightly working together to implement their responsibilities under the Emergency Fire Safety Review that we sent them...

"The government, through London Resilience, is offering every assistance in getting this done as swiftly and safely as possible."

- BBC

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