Cladding to be removed from five Chalcots tower blocks

The Chalcot Estate Image copyright Google
Image caption The five tower blocks of the Chalcots Estate are fitted with the same external thermal cladding as Grenfell Tower

Camden Council has said it will remove external thermal cladding from five tower blocks on one of its estates in the wake of the Grenfell Tower blaze.

Tests carried out on the panels at the Chalcots Estate showed the cladding fitted to five tower blocks was identical to that at Grenfell.

The council said it would carry out regular fire safety patrols and safety checks to reassure residents.

The cladding will be removed "as quickly as possible", it said.

It comes as it emerged around 600 high rises across England had used similar cladding to Grenfell Tower.

Camden Council agreed a contract with Rydon Construction - the same firm that oversaw the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower - to refurbish the Chatlcots Estate in May 2006 at a cost of £66m, with completion due in 2010.

It is unclear when the cladding was fitted but a spokesman for the council said it was present on the Taplow Tower in 2012 when a fire broke out on the 16th floor.

Image copyright Camden New Journal
Image caption Fires have occurred before on the Chalcots Estate including on the 17th floor of the Taplow Tower in January 2012

Council leader Georgia Gould said: "The panels that were fitted 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.

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Media caption"We will do everything in our power to keep residents safe," leader of Camden Council tells PM programme

"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."

The council pointed out the tower blocks on the Chalcots Estate, containing 711 homes, were fitted with fire resistant insulation and there was fire resistant sealant between floors.

'Scary prospect'

Both measures are designed to stop a high-intensity flat fire from spreading to neighbouring flats.

None of the five towers in the Chalcots are believed to have a sprinkler system.

Eloisa, whose grandmother lives in one of the tower blocks, told the BBC Radio 4's PM programme residents were "pretty scared"

She said: "There is only one fire exit and only one stairwell, which is a problem that was in Grenfell. So if the same thing happens here we're pretty much screwed.

"My grandma is in a wheelchair as well, so if anything happens we won't be able to get her out which is an even scarier prospect."

Image caption Local Chalcots Estate resident Simon Morris said Camden Council should have acted sooner

Another local resident, Ivanki, told the programme he and his family had moved out of their flat in one of the towers.

"If there is a fire here we don't know what to do," he said.

"We have been staying with [my wife's] mum because we don't know how long this is going to take. I won't stay here [until the cladding has been changed]. My child won't stay here."

Simon Morris told the BBC there was "obviously relief" that action was finally being taken over the cladding on the Chalcots Estate, but there was also anger over why it was allowed to be installed in the first place.

He said: "These panels should have been tested before they went up, there is anger that corridors weren't cleared Wednesday last week. Finally somebody turned up yesterday to start to put stickers on things.

"Yes its great we're now having round the clock security staff patrolling corridors in case of fire but at the end of the day, with the best will in the world, they are only security staff. They are not fire fighters. They have not been issued with any kit to tackle even the smallest fire.

"Camden are doing the right things now but I also fear that they should be doing a lot more and, as far as I'm concerned, they should have started this a lot sooner."

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Media captionResidents who live in a similar high rise block in Camden share their concerns

Councillors and fire brigade officials were heckled during a meeting to explain the decision at Swiss Cottage library.

One resident of a nearby tower block shouted: "You did not check the work, and where you did not check the work you left people in danger."

She added to supportive claps: "I want to see someone from the council swing for that."

Another woman, who said she lives on the 17th floor, revealed she is "frightened and petrified".

The authority said it had set up an information point on Chalcots Estate for residents who may have concerns.

Chief executive Mike Cooke said they are hoping to announce on Friday the company which will be removing the cladding.

"The instruction I am giving my staff is I want it done in weeks not months. We will work to get it done as quickly as possible," he added

A council spokesperson said questions would have to be asked both of the contractors and of its own building inspectors to establish how the cladding was fitted to the building.

At the weekend it emerged the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding used at Grenfell Tower and now discovered on the Chalcots Estate should not be used on buildings above a height of 18m (59ft).

Grenfell Tower is 70m (220ft) in height while four of the five towers on the Chalcots Estate are 67m (219ft) high and 23 storeys.

Last week, several residents of the estate told BBC London they were concerned about the cladding on the side of their buildings.

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