Angry tenants defy evacuation order as 34 blocks fail fire tests

A woman with suitcases leaves Taplow Tower residential block on the Chalcots Estate in north London. Picture: Getty
A woman with suitcases leaves Taplow Tower residential block on the Chalcots Estate in north London. Picture: Getty
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A total of 34 high-rise buildings in 17 local authorities across England have failed fire cladding safety tests in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has announced.

The revelation comes as more than 3,000 residents of the Chalcots Estate in Camden, north London, are facing weeks in temporary accommodation after four tower blocks were evacuated.

A resident with belongings leaves Burnham Tower residential block on the Chalcots Estate in north London. Picture: PA

A resident with belongings leaves Burnham Tower residential block on the Chalcots Estate in north London. Picture: PA

London boroughs Brent, Barnet, Hounslow and Camden, along with Manchester, Plymouth and Portsmouth were named by the government yesterday as having buildings that had failed tests amid a nationwide safety operation launched after at least 79 people died when fire ripped through Grenfell Tower in north Kensington on 14 June.

Camden Council leader Georgia Gould said around 600 council flats have been evacuated due to concerns over “combustible” external cladding, insulation, gas pipes and fire doors.

But 83 households had refused to leave by yesterday morning.

Roger Evans, 51, who said he found out that his building was being cleared after a friend saw it on the news and alerted him by text, said: “As far as I am concerned, nothing in that building has changed in the last few days, weeks, months or years.

I have a disabled mother, I have animals in my property – they are not doing anything and no-one is telling us anything – it is ridiculous

“It was perfectly safe before, despite what they are saying now – I believe I am safe in there.”

Iola McCarogher, 27, said: “I am not leaving, it is my home. Until someone comes and puts a court order in front of my face, I am not leaving.

“I have a disabled mother, I have animals in my property – they are not doing anything and no-one is telling us anything – it is ridiculous.”

Gould said it would “become a matter for the fire service” if residents stayed in their homes after being spoken to again by officials.

Gould said it could take between two and four weeks to make safe the four buildings – Taplow, Burnham, Bray and Dorney – while residents of a fifth tower block, Blashford, were told they could return to their homes.

Work had been due to begin on stripping cladding from buildings on the Chalcots Estate, but Camden Council ordered the “decant” of residents on Friday evening following further checks by the London Fire Brigade.

People were told to leave as darkness began to fall, with some taking belongings in suitcases and carrier bags, and some locals saying they only learned of the evacuation as they watched the news.

Families with newborn babies and a Second World War veteran were among those ordered out of their homes after fire officers said they could not guarantee the safety of the buildings, with more than 100 staying in the Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre overnight and others sleeping in hotels.

Waiting for a minibus to take her family to a hotel six miles away, Zega Ghebre, 42, said the situation was “unbelievable”.

She added: “The thing that makes me angry is that we watched the news, we tried to evacuate and they sent us back, they said they were only taking Taplow. We asked again and again and they gave us all different reasons. We were told ‘There’s nothing to worry about, you’re not going to evacuate’. It’s hard to trust anyone now, because if they come and tell me something, we won’t know.”

Gould said the council is looking at accommodation including student halls and opening up newly built social housing, with hopes that by tomorrow 50 per cent of tenants will be accommodated. She said the cost to the council will be “really expensive” taking into account the work on the blocks, and the temporary accommodation, but the council was not thinking about the “purse strings”.

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

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