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London tower block residents 'must leave' says council

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Residents who refused to leave north London tower blocks over fire safety fears are being told they “must leave”.

Camden Council said on Sunday that staff would continue asking those people who had not yet left the Chalcots Estate in Swiss Cottage to vacate their flats.

About 20 households had refused to leave their homes by Saturday evening.

Meanwhile, cladding on 34 tower blocks in 17 council areas in England has failed fire safety tests.

Where have fire cladding tests failed?

The leader of Camden Council, Georgia Gould, said staff will conduct further door knocking ask anyone remaining to leave “and issue another letter reiterating to residents who are still remaining in the Taplow, Bray, Dorney and Burnham blocks, that they must leave”.

“By remaining in the blocks these residents risk delaying the work that is required and that we are undertaking to make these homes safe.

“It is not safe to remain in these blocks and our residents’ safety will continue to be the council’s number one priority.”

Four of the five blocks on the Chalcots Estate were evacuated on Friday due to concerns about external cladding, gas pipe insulation, and fire doors.

Camden Council said it had no option but to move residents from 650 flats while work takes place.

The government plans to examine cladding from up to 600 blocks and so far, every sample submitted from tower blocks has failed the tests.

But – across the country – not every block that fails safety tests will be evacuated.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid – while agreeing with the decision in Camden – said: “A failure in testing of the cladding does not necessarily mean that a building will have to be evacuated.

“The decision by Camden Council was because the failed testing of the external cladding was compounded by multiple other fire safety failures.”

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The Local Government Association said some councils have introduced 24-hour warden patrols to mitigate the risk before cladding is removed.

It said in a statement: “Where cladding fails the test, this will not necessarily mean moving residents from tower blocks.

“In Camden, the decision to evacuate was based on fire inspectors’ concerns about a combination of other fire hazards together with the cladding.

“For those areas still waiting for results of tests on aluminium composite material cladding, our advice to them is to prepare contingency plans so they can take any measures needed quickly.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government’s testing programme, which began on Wednesday, is able to test 100 samples a day.

Although every sample has failed the test so far, he pointed out that local authorities have been asked to prioritise buildings they had most concern over.

Some of the 17 local authorities where high-rise buildings have failed fire safety tests have been named. They are:

  • Camden – where residents have been evacuated from four blocks on the Chalcots Estate
  • Brent – where a housing association tower block, Elizabeth House, has cladding but London Fire Brigade advises it is not a risk
  • Barnet – where cladding put up on three towers in Granville Road, NW2, in 2012 is to be removed as precautionary measure
  • Hounslow – where Clements Court tower in Cranford is to have outer cladding removed
  • Manchester – where 78 panels are being removed from one area of the Village 135 development in Wythenshawe
  • Salford – where cladding is also to be removed from nine tower blocks
  • Plymouth – where three blocks on the Mount Wise Tower estate were found to have cladding made from similar material to Grenfell Tower
  • Portsmouth – where the city council is removing cladding from Horatia House and Leamington House in Somerstown

The Chalcots Estate’s cladding is similar to Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, west London, where a fire is feared to have killed 79 people.

Chalcots was refurbished between 2006 and 2009 by the same firm, Rydon, that oversaw work at Grenfell Tower in 2015-16.

After the evacuation, emergency accommodation was set up at Swiss Cottage leisure centre and at the Camden Centre in King’s Cross.

Camden Council – which said it already spent £500,000 on hotel rooms – said it would reimburse residents who have paid for their own temporary accommodation.

It has also set aside £100,000 for food and essential items for displaced residents.

The work at Chalcots is expected to take three to four weeks.

Sayed Mead, a resident on the estate who left his flat, told BBC Breakfast that not knowing where he was going to be housed had been “eating me away”.

He has now been given accommodation but said the council had created “panic” among the residents.

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