UK

Camden Flats Evacuation Sees 83 Residents Refuse To Leave Chalcots Estate Amid Fire Safety Concerns

Government announces that 27 high-rise tower blocks in 15 council areas fail cladding fire safety tests.

24/06/2017 10:50 BST | Updated 24/06/2017 14:13 BST

Eight three people have refused to leave their homes on the Chalcots Estate in north London where hundreds of residents were evacuated on Friday night amid fire safety concerns. 

Camden Council evacuated around 650 homes, displacing some 4,000 people, with less than an hour’s notice, after a decision was made at 6.30pm that the tower blocks were no longer safe. 

The residents were moved amid distressing scenes to temporary accommodation after firefighters said they could no longer guarantee the safety of the buildings, council leader Georgia Gould said.

Hannah Mckay / Reuters
Residents of Taplow Tower in Camden were evacuated from their homes on Friday night with less than an hour's notice

The evacuation came as the government said on Saturday that 27 high-rise tower blocks in 15 council areas had failed cladding fire safety tests.

Gould told Sky News that 270 hotel rooms had been used along with 100 places in social housing within Camden. Neighbouring boroughs had also been asked for support. 

The buildings have been found to be covered with the same type of cladding as used at Grenfell Tower, five miles to the south west, where at least 79 people died in the June 14 tragedy. The council raised concerns about the block on Thursday when Downing Street revealed that as many as 600 buildings in the UK are encased in cladding. 

Hannah Mckay / Reuters
Taplow Tower block on the Chalcots Estate in north London 

Of the decision to evacuate, which was also made over concerns over “gas pipe insulation” Gould said: “At the end of today, they (the fire service) told us they could not guarantee our residents’ safety in those blocks and so I have made the really, really difficult decision to move the people living there into temporary accommodation while we do the urgent works to guarantee safety.

“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.”

Camden Council initially said just 161 households in the Taplow building on the estate were being “temporarily decanted” to allow up to four weeks of work to the building.

But Gould confirmed the number had increased to include all the buildings, with a rest centre set up at Swiss Cottage Library.

There was confusion on the ground at the estate as people were told to leave as darkness began to fall, with some leaving with belongings in suitcases and carrier bags. Some residents were also pictured carrying their pets. 

Some locals said they found out about the evacuation from watching breaking news on television.

The council had already announced it would immediately begin preparing to remove cladding from the five towers on the estate discovered in checks following the fire in north Kensington.

Refurbishment of the Chalcots estate was overseen by Rydon, the company involved in the refit of Grenfell Tower, according to the Rydon website.

Hannah Mckay / Reuters
A resident and her cat during evacuations on Friday night

The site said the Chalcots project was a £66 million refurbishment that lasted 191 weeks.

The work included external thermal rain screen cladding on five towers, new aluminium thermally broken windows on five towers and an overhaul of external roofs. It added that 711 flats were modernised with new wiring, heating, kitchens and bathrooms.

The evacuations came as four more victims of Grenfell Tower were formally identified, taking the known victims to nine.

Scotland Yard said on Friday that manslaughter charges are being considered by detectives investigating the blaze in the tower, which had failed fire safety tests.

Speaking while attending Armed Forces Day in Liverpool, Theresa May said: “For those Camden blocks, it wasn’t just a question of the cladding; there were a number of issues that came together that meant that the fire service were concerned about those blocks and the action was taken by the local authority.”

She added: “We are making sure that the authority has the ability to do what is necessary to ensure people have somewhere to stay and that the work is done so that those tower blocks will become safe for them to return to in future.”

May said the Government was working with local authorities across the country to address fire safety concerns about tower blocks following the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

She said: “The Government is working with those local authorities affected by this issue to ensure that they’re able to do what is necessary on the ground to reassure people about the safety of their blocks, if necessary to evacuate people, and take action to make those tower blocks safe.

“The Government is supporting local authorities to do that and together we are making sure that the resources are there to ensure that what is needed to keep people safe is done.”

She said local authorities were being urged to send in samples of cladding and material to be tested and “immediate action” would be taken if the materials were found not to be up to fire safety standards.

May said the Government was working with those in the Kensington and Chelsea area to ensure people who lost their homes following the blaze at Grenfell Tower were rehoused within three weeks and provided with financial support.

Camden Council said officials were going door-to-door one at a time for safety reasons, starting at Taplow then working through Burnham, Bray, Blashford and Dorney.

A spokesman said residents would be allowed in at the weekend to collect more possessions “under escort from the London Fire Brigade” and recommended people pack enough belongings for a two to four-week stay.

The British Red Cross said it had staff helping residents at the rest centre.

A London Fire Brigade spokesman said: “London Fire Brigade has been working at the Chalcots Estate with Camden Council.

“Following extensive joint visits and inspections the brigade advised that there were a number of fire safety issues in the buildings and recommended that residents should not remain in the buildings until these issues are resolved.

“Camden Council have acted on this by evacuating and providing the residents with alternative accommodation so that remedial works can go ahead as quickly as possible.

“London Fire Brigade officers will continue to work with Camden to put in place measures to improve safety for residents in these buildings.”

A spokesman for Camden Council said in a statement issued at 1.24am: “So far we have secured hundreds of hotel beds for Chalcots residents.

“We’re encouraging all residents to stay with friends and family if they can, otherwise we’ll provide accommodation.

“Swiss Cottage rest centre is nearing capacity so we’ve secured more space at the Camden Centre King’s Cross.

“Specialist staff are on the ground to assist residents with care needs. Pets are also welcome at both rest centres and hotel accommodation.”