Grenfell Tower: Eleven high rises 'fail fire-risk tests'

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Media caption,
Theresa May is booed on her latest visit to meet Grenfell Tower residents

Eleven residential high-rise buildings in eight local authority areas have been found with cladding which raises safety concerns.

It comes as tests are being carried out on about 600 high rises across England.

Meanwhile, the BBC has learned that Premier Inn is "extremely concerned" about cladding on three of its hotels.

Cladding is thought to have contributed to the rapid spread of fire at Grenfell Tower, in which at least 79 people are believed to have died.

Nine people are still in hospital following the fire on 14 June, of which three are in critical care.

Until now, safety fears over cladding have centred on council high rises, but concerns appear to reach beyond the housing sector.

Premier Inn has told BBC Newsnight that cladding on its hotels in Maidenhead, Brentford and Tottenham did not appear to comply with government guidance for tall buildings - although it did appear to be a less flammable type than that used at Grenfell Tower.

Media caption,
Watch BBC Newsnight's report on Premier Inn's urgent review into hotel cladding

The hotel chain said an independent expert has assured them that the hotels were safe to stay open given their "robust" safety measures including fire detectors and smoke alarms in every room.

The hotels do not operate a "stay put" policy and have multiple means of escape.

Newsnight's Chris Cook said Premier Inn was just one of a long list of places that could have fire safety issues - and were only singled out by the programme because they responded so quickly and in full to his questions.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has written to all local authority and housing association chief executives to advise them on steps to take if tower blocks in their area are found to be covered in cladding they are concerned about.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has also written to all MPs saying landlords of the 11 affected buildings have been told to inform their tenants - once done, the areas could be identified to the public.

Only Camden, Manchester and Plymouth are named in his letter, which also says the Army has been assisting with building repairs.

'Honest from the beginning'

Michelle Urquhart has lived in tower blocks in the Camden borough for 50 years. She said she was "absolutely furious" when she found out Bray Tower, where she lives, is covered in potentially dangerous cladding.

Ms Urquhart said: "They have been fobbing us off, we've had letters to say "oh everything is fine, it's fireproof", and then we got a letter today to say the polythene is in the middle.

"All the neighbours are going mad, we all want to know why they weren't honest with us from the beginning.

"If they didn't know then they shouldn't have reassured us."

The prime minister's spokesman said extra checks by the fire service would determine whether the 11 high-rise buildings found to have this type of cladding were safe and what - if any - action needed to be taken.

He pointed out that a failed cladding test did not necessarily mean a building was unsafe - that would depend on the amount of cladding used and where it was fitted.

Arconic, an engineering and manufacturing company, said one of its products, Reynobond PE (polyethylene) - an aluminium composite material - was "used as one component in the overall cladding system" of Grenfell Tower.

"We will fully support the authorities as they investigate this tragedy," a spokesman for the US-based firm said.

The BBC has established that Reynobond PE was issued a certificate in the UK in 1997 allowing it to be used on high-rise buildings. Chancellor Philip Hammond has said he thought the Grenfell cladding was banned in the UK.

Media caption,
Mohammed Abdur Rahim, who lost family in the fire, says a third world country would have handled it better

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, councils were told to give the government samples of cladding used in their tower blocks for testing.

Cladding is typically fitted to the outside of high-rise buildings to improve insulation and tidy up the appearance of the exterior.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said no-one would be left to live in unsafe buildings.

"They will be rehoused if they need to be and landlords will be asked to provide alternative accommodation where that's possible," she said.

Arnold Tarling, a member of the Association for Specialist Fire Protection, told BBC 5 live that removing the cladding around the country could cost "hundreds of millions of pounds".

Image caption,
Samples from the tower block in Camden were found to be a safety concern, and are now removed

Tests showed that decorative cladding around Village 135, a tower block in south Manchester, could have been made with the same materials as the Grenfell Tower.

As a result, that cladding would be replaced "as soon as possible so that residents feel reassured", Wythenshawe Housing Group said.

Another of the blocks found to have potentially hazardous cladding is on Camden Council's Chalcots estate, in north London.

The panels, found to have been made up of aluminium with a polyethylene core, are now being removed, the council said.

Its leader Georgia Gould said the panels were "not to the standard" that the council had commissioned, and it would be informing the contractor behind the work that they would be taking legal advice.

Three tower blocks in Plymouth have also been found to be clad in panels which raise safety concerns.

One is Mount Wise Towers, which caught fire in February, with one resident having to run out of the building with her seven-week-old daughter.

Media caption,
Resident Chloe Brewster speaks about a fire at a Plymouth tower block in February

Plymouth Community Homes said it was taking immediate precautions and all three tower blocks would have their cladding removed.

"We are completing further checks to ensure all fire doors remain in place and closers are fitted and operating as they should be," it added.

"We are installing additional fire protection to the interiors to the stairwells of each tower today as an extra fire safety measure."

Residents' fears in Tottenham high rise

By Jim Reed, BBC Victoria Derbyshire programme

Media caption,
'These things should have been checked out before people moved in'

Residents at a 22-storey block of flats in Tottenham, north London, have been sent an email - seen by the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme - saying the building has the same cladding as Grenfell Tower.

Rivers Apartments - which is shared ownership, so classed as social housing - was built just two years ago, with the cladding incorporated as part of the design.

It is understood the block is clad in Reynobond PE, the same brand of cladding believed to have been used on Grenfell Tower.

The programme was told the tower passed all building regulation checks by Haringey Council.

Unlike Grenfell Tower, this block does contain modern safety features, such as a sprinkler system.

Newlon Housing Trust, the housing association that part-owns the block, said it had arranged with the fire service to carry out more checks.

It is still waiting for final test results to confirm it is the most flammable type of cladding.

It says the cladding on the building may have to be replaced.

Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday that she expected to name the judge who would lead a public inquiry into the fire within the next few days.

Since the fire on 14 June, more than £700,000 had been paid out to survivors - none of which would have to be repaid, said Mrs May.

Resources, including healthcare and accommodation, would be available to everyone affected by the fire, regardless of their immigration status, she added.

The fire destroyed 151 homes - most in the tower block itself, but also a number of surrounding properties.

Mrs May said that 164 "suitable properties" had now been found for those made homeless, and they were being checked over before residents can move in. These include 68 in a new development nearby.

The Scottish government and Welsh ministers have said that none of their council high-rise blocks has cladding of the type said to have been used in the Grenfell Tower.

Similarly, there is no evidence of Grenfell Tower-type cladding used on tower blocks managed by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

Checks on other high-rise buildings owned by housing associations or private developers in Northern Ireland and Scotland are continuing.

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