Anger erupts as Chalcots residents confront Camden bosses over fire trap tower blocks
PUBLISHED: 06:21 23 June 2017 | UPDATED: 14:44 23 June 2017
Hundreds of anxious residents of the Chalcots estate packed a heated public meeting following the revelations that their 717 tower block homes are a potential fire trap.
Camden council leaders called the emergency meeting after finally revealing that the external cladding on the four identical 23-floor blocks, Taplow, Bray. Burnham, Dorney and 19-floor Blashford are flammable and did not pass fire safety tests.
They are similar to the cladding the government has blamed for spreading the fire at Grenfell Tower in which 79 people died on Wednesday last week.
Urgent works to remove the panels at the Chalcots has begun and until then the council will carry out 24/7 fire safety patrols.
But last night angry residents, who have been made to wait an anxious week since the Grenfell fire to discover their homes are unsafe, confronted housing chiefs.
There were cries of “you did not check the work” as tempers flared and the crowd became increasingly vocal and upset at the meeting in Swiss Cottage Library.
Many were also calling for Belsize Fire Station to be urgently reopened and for immediate fire safety drills as it was revealed they are to stay in their homes while the cladding is removed.
Simon Happily, who lives on the 22nd floor of Bray, led the rallying cry for Belsize fire station to be reopened. “If we don’t get it back now, we’ll never get it back,” he said.
Others were asking housing bosses how long the removal of the unsafe cladding would take, with housing chiefs saying: “We want it done in weeks, not months.”
The council says it is seeking urgent legal advice after tests showed that the panels were not “fitted to they standard they commissioned”.
The work was carried out in 2006 as part of a £150million PFI deal with building firms Rydon and subcontractors Harley Facades - the same firms responsible for refurbishing Grenfell Tower last year.
Council leader Georgia Gould told the meeting she was “shocked and disappointed” to learn that the cladding used was unsafe.
Although residents raised questions as to how the work - which should have been constantly monitored and checked by a fire safety officer - was then signed off by the council’s own building control team.
One resident, who gave her name as Elaine, said: “Camden, you never looked at the work that was done. So you left these people in danger. I want to see someone from the council swing for that.”
There were calls for sprinklers to also be installed throughout the blocks and for members of the community to be trained as fire marshals.
A resident named Angela said: “You can’t reassure me, because I’m on 17th floor. You need to do more and you need to do it now. I’m frightened, I’m petrified.”
Anne-Cecile, a mother-of-four on the 21st floor of Taplow, called for vulnerable and disabled people who would struggle to get down the stairs in a fire to be rehomed while the cladding is removed.
Fire borough commander Simon Tuhill told residents that there was still a “stay put” policy in the first hour of their fire, as each Chalcots Estate flat has a fire door.
Chalcots Estate residents’ association chair Robert O’Toole raised concerns that there were a lot of private leaseholders in the flats, who might not have received the same electricity and gas checks as the council tenants.
He said: “We don’t know who’s in the flats, if they’re getting the checks.”