Tuesday 19 September 2017

Five Camden tower blocks are being evacuated over fire safety fears

Some 800 households in five tower blocks are being moved

Residents leave the Taplow tower block on the Chalcots Estate in Camden, London, as the building is evacuated in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire to allow
Residents leave the Taplow tower block on the Chalcots Estate in Camden, London, as the building is evacuated in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire to allow "urgent fire safety works" to take place. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Photo Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Residents leave the Taplow tower block on the Chalcots Estate in Camden, London, as the building is evacuated in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire to allow "urgent fire safety works" to take place. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Residents leave the Taplow tower block on the Chalcots Estate in Camden, London, as the building is evacuated in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire to allow "urgent fire safety works" to take place. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

A major evacuation is under way on a London housing estate over fire safety fears in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Some 800 households in five tower blocks on the Chalcots Estate in Camden are being moved to temporary accommodation after firefighters said they could not guarantee the safety of the buildings, council leader Georgia Gould said.

The buildings have been found to be covered with the same type of cladding as used at Grenfell, five miles to the south west, where at least 79 people died in June 14's tragedy.

Ms Gould told Sky that council officials and firefighters had been examining the Chalcots buildings on Friday, and the decision to evacuate was made at around 6.30pm.

Residents leave the Taplow tower block on the Chalcots Estate in Camden, London, as the building is evacuated in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire to allow
Residents leave the Taplow tower block on the Chalcots Estate in Camden, London, as the building is evacuated in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire to allow "urgent fire safety works" to take place. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

She said: "At the end of today, they 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."

A rest centre has been set up at Swiss Cottage Library, she added.

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

But Ms Gould later told Sky the number had increased to encompass all the buildings.

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.

Michelle Urquhart, who has been living in the estate's Bray tower, told the Press Association: "It's a bit frightening.

"They are talking about evacuating all five blocks.

"At the moment they haven't done it and they are saying they will knock on everyone's doors when they are ready.

"I don't know where we are going to go.

"One man in a suit said to me 'you can't stay here tonight'.

"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, added: "I really don't know what to do, I'm so scared right now.

"The news has said 'get out now' but the authorities have said 'stay put'.

"But why now? 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.

"I have family in Wales who are saying 'come here, we'll come and get you'.

"I've tried calling the council and all you're getting is nothing. All they're saying is 'you're safe inside'.

"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."

The council had already announced that 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 on the Chalcots estate in Camden was overseen by Rydon, the company involved in the refit of Grenfell Tower, according to the Rydon website.

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

The work included external thermal rain screen cladding to five towers, new aluminium thermally broken windows to five towers and overhaul of external roofs

It added that 711 flats were modernised with new wiring, heating, kitchens and bathrooms.

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

Scotland Yard also revealed manslaughter charges are being considered by detectives investigating the blaze in the tower in west London, which had failed fire safety tests.

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

"We will work with and support the emergency services and relevant authorities to safeguard the public.

"Have asked @sajidjavid to keep me regularly updated & ensure we are offering every support we can to residents & those working onsite."

Camden Council said the blocks were being door-knocked one at a time for safety reasons, starting at Taplow then working through Burnham, Bray, Blashford and Dorney.

A spokesman added that 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.

Hampstead and Kilburn Labour MP Tulip Siddiq backed the Labour council's decision as "the right thing".

She said: "If you think someone's in danger, especially in light of Grenfell, you take the first decision even if it's not ideal.

"Off the back of the meeting we had last night in which lots of residents raised concerns, Camden Council and London Fire Brigade did the right thing which was to carry out the safety checks.

"Once they'd checked out the internal machinery they decided that the buildings are not fit for purpose.

"So they've made a decision that couldn't have been easy for the council to rehouse the 800 households that we have.

"It may seem dramatic to some people but if you are in a position of responsibility then I think it's the right decision to make."

She said that all the hotels booked for residents were so far within the borough."

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