UK

Grenfell Tower: Eleven High-Rise Blocks Found To Have Combustible Cladding

HuffPost UK speaks to residents too scared to sleep.

22/06/2017 14:20 BST | Updated 22/06/2017 21:00 BST

Combustible cladding has been found on eleven high-rise blocks of flats in eight authority areas in England, Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid has said in a letter to MPs.

The revelation follows Downing Street confirming on Thursday that councils in England estimate that 600 high-rise buildings are encased in cladding, but not necessarily the flammable variety found at Grenfell Tower.

As checks were taking place across the country, residents at tower blocks with cladding being removed in London have told HuffPost UK they are now too scared to sleep.

Camden Council in London was already removing cladding similar to that used on the Grenfell Tower from several blocks in the borough, and is considering taking legal action against the contractor involved in fitting it. 

Two other blocks found to be covered in “combustible” material are in Tottenham and Barnet.

HuffPost UK
Cladding from five blocks at Chalcots Estate in Camden will be removed; the picture above shows a panel missing after being sent away for testing

Outer cladding panels on five blocks in Camden were made up of aluminium panels with a polyethylene core – the kind which is believed to have helped spread the Grenfell blaze across its 24 storeys - Camden council said on Thursday. 

Roydon, the company behind the Grenfell refurbishments, also oversaw the work in Camden. 

In a statement, also provided to residents, Camden council said the buildings on the Chalcots Estate had been independently tested by the Building Research Establishment in the aftermath of the June 14 fire that has claimed at least 79 lives.

A panel from each of the five blocks was missing when HuffPost UK visited on Thursday.

Samuel Mensah who lives on the 16th floor of the Burnham Tower told HuffPost UK the news that the cladding needs to be removed from the building is “very scary”.

When the panels are off, then I’ll feel safe, it’s scary I can’t sleep. Chalcots Estate resident Samuel Mensah

The 53-year-old said: “When I’m inside I’m not comfortable after what happened with those poor people at Grenfell.”

“When the panels are off, then I’ll feel safe, it’s scary I can’t sleep.”

Another resident, Bridget Myers, who lives in the same block on the 14th floor said she is happy with the way Camden Council has responded in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire. 

“I live on my own, and I thought if I was going to start worrying I’d be a wreck,” the 66-year-old said. 

“What am I supposed to do?”, Myers asked outside her home today. “My daughter asked, ‘are you worried mum?’, and I said, if I still live here, I’m not going to start making myself go crazy.”

Chantal Peters, who lives on the 16th floor of the Dorney block with four of her six children, condemned the building she has called home for 22 years as a major fire risk. 

The 38-year-old claimed that the building has no fire alarms, sprinklers and “there is no safety advice”.

She told HuffPost UK: “If there was to be a fire, I wouldn’t be able to get out of my house. There’s no fire alarm, there’s no sprinklers – there’s nothing to alert us.

“The only safety [advice] I give to people in my block is if there was a fire, you put your taps on. Your bath tap and the sink and the kitchen and you flood your house. That’s my advice to give to my neighbours. I feel scared for my kids. I don’t feel safe. I haven’t felt safe for years.

“We’ve got one exit and that’s the stairwell. Imagine if all of us came down one stairwell, with kids and people who are disabled… how are they going to get out? You’ve got elderly people up there… There’s an old guy up there on the top floor, how’s he getting out? He’s deaf in both ears, how is he going to know anything?

“There’s no fire alarms to say there’s a fire. We’ve got to look out the window to see the fire engines, to see what’s going on or smell some smoke.

“Why did they put this cladding up in the first place? It’s disgusting.” Chantal Peters lives on the 16th floor at Chalcots Estate

When asked about Peters’ claims, Camden Council today said they were unable to confirm either way if Chalcots Estate has fire alarms or sprinklers, but a spokesperson said it was in the process of checking and that the estate had passed all its fire safety checks. 

HuffPost UK
Chantal Peters has lived in the block for 22 years and says she doesn't feel safe 

Council leader Georgia Gould told residents the council would carry out “24/7 fire safety patrols on the estate’s corridors to reassure residents and carry out enhanced fire safety checks”.

Gould said following the Grenfell Tower tragedy the council “immediately reviewed” fire safety at all of its high rise blocks, as “we weren’t prepared to take anything for granted and we were first in the queue to test the cladding on our blocks”. 

A panel from each of the five blocks was missing when HuffPost UK visited on Thursday. 

Results of those tests, Gould wrote, showed that the cladding used on Chalcots Estate “significantly differs” from that used on Grenfell Tower. It includes fire-resistant rock wool insulation designed to prevent the spread of fire and fire resistant sealant between floors, designed to stop a high-intensity flat fire from spreading to neighbouring flats.

The council noted the cladding had “previously contained” a fire at a flat in Taplow block in 2012 and “are significant and proven arrangements to stop the spread of fire”.

HuffPost UK
Camden Council said it is taking 'urgent legal advice' over the cladding used by the contractor

However, Gould added that the outer cladding panels are made up of aluminium panels with a polyethylene core and were “not to the standard that we had commissioned”.

“In light of this, we will be informing the contractor that we will be taking urgent legal advice,” she wrote.

“Whilst we are clear that our cladding design and insulation significantly differs to that at Grenfell Tower, the external cladding panels did not satisfy our independent laboratory testing or the high standards we set for contractors.

“Camden Council has decided it will immediately begin preparing to remove these external cladding panels from the five tower blocks on the Chalcots Estate. Camden Council will do whatever it takes to ensure our residents are reassured about the safety of their homes.”

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A resident at Chalcots Estate told HuffPost UK that she 'feels scared for my kids'

Until the panels have been removed the council vowed to carry out 24/7 safety checks and corridor sweeps to ensure they were free of obstructions and anything potentially flammable. 

It will also work with residents to test white goods (PAT testing), asses fire doors in properties, and provide fire safety advice to residents.

Gould said the council is working side-by-side with “our housing groups” and the London Fire Brigade and “we remain ready to respond to any changes to national fire safety advice”.

She added: “We stand ready to fully support any national investigation into materials, building standards and safety regulations.

“It’s vital for all of London’s residents who live in high-rise buildings, that we learn from investigations into what caused and exacerbated the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower.”

Meanwhile, residents at a 22-storey block of flats in Tottenham, called the Rivers Apartments, have also been told their building contains the same cladding as that used on Grenfell Tower, the BBC reports

Labour MP David Lammy, who has been pushing the government for answers over the Grenfell fire inquiry, said he also “demanding answers” over Rivers Apartments. 

It is understood the block is clad in Reynobond PE, the same brand of cladding believed to have been used on Grenfell Tower, the broadcaster said, adding that the building has passed all building regulation checks by Haringey Council.

Newlon Housing Trust, the housing association that part owns the block, said it has arranged with the fire service to carry out more checks and told the BBC the cladding may have to be replaced.

The Evening Standard reported earlier this week that more than 100 social housing blocks in London have cladding, with a small number of these having similar materials to that used at Grenfell Tower.

A leading fire safety expert has told BBC 5 live that the cost of removing combustible cladding from building across the country could cost “hundreds of millions of pounds”.

Arnold Tarling, chartered surveyor and member of the Association for Specialist Fire Protection, told the station that the problem was extensive and didn’t just affect tower blocks,

“Problems with cladding and problems with properties doesn’t just affect social housing. It goes across the whole range of properties. There could be office blocks clad with it.”

Tarling said that 2017 would mark a change in how fire safety is regarded, calling the Grenfell Tower blaze a “game changer”.

“They keep telling us lessons have been learnt. From my experience that from all the public enquiries that have been into fatalities in fires, no lessons have been learnt because the lessons learnt from enquiries have been totally and utterly ignored.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said earlier today that Downing Street’s confirmation of the extent of the cladding problem “confirms people’s worst fears that there is a real risk that other tower blocks across Britain are at risk from combustible cladding”.

He added: “There is now a huge amount of work to urgently do to ensure that the Fire Brigade are satisfied that it is safe for people to remain in properties affected. 

“If not, the government must support people being rehoused immediately while cladding is being removed.”