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Residents face nervous wait for cladding answers following Grenfell disaster

Fire evacuation reviews ordered at 41 blocks across Westminster

23 June, 2017 — By Alina Polianskaya

Council cannot say for sure if Little Venice blocks are safe 

HUNDREDS of tenants are facing an agonising wait for results of an investigation into cladding on six tower blocks following the Grenfell Tower disaster.

The city council last night (Thursday) said they still do not know whether residents of the Little Venice estate are safe in their homes.

The council said last week cladding panels, installed on six towers there in 2007 and supplied by the same company that did the work in Kensington, were being sent away for testing at a specialist centre “as a precaution”.

Results from similar tests on cladding in neighbouring Camden yesterday prompted the council immediately to order panels to be stripped from five of its tower blocks.

A Westminster spokesman said: “The safety of our residents is our number one priority and if there is any doubt arising from these checks, we will take immediate action.”

Westminster North Karen Buck MP has called on Theresa May to release funds so the council can widen its borough-wide fire safety investigations.

Last Thursday an official investigation was launched into cladding on six tower blocks – known collectively as Little Venice estate – Brinklow House, Oversley House, Polesworth House, Princethorpe House, Gaydon House and Wilmcote House.

The council wrote to residents on the estate to tell them that the same company, Harley Facades, had supplied both the additional cladding on their six towers and at Grenfell Tower. But they added there was “no reason to believe” the cladding was the same type.

In Wilmcote, Leon Luis said a letter sent to residents about the investigation was “not exactly reassuring” and added: “I’d like some more detail.” Mr Luis was concerned about people’s ability to leave the building safely in the case of a fire, adding: “My mum lives here too and she’s not very mobile, and you think about your neighbours. It would be nice if they sent some experts round to check.”

Resident Fahimeh Rahmani said the news that the same firm had supplied the cladding had come as a shock and she was keen for further assurances.

She said: “I feel very stressed. From the day we found out, I haven’t felt safe. There are a lot of elderly people in this building and it has 21 floors. I saw the fire in Grenfell Tower and just thought, that’s the same as my building.”

Wilmcote residents warned that lifts were often not working and felt that the authorities did not care enough about their building.

One woman, who lives in Brinklow, said there have been four fires but that no one had ever been badly hurt. She said: “Four times there have been fires here and no one has died. The council have been really concerned about us. They are doing their best.”

Another Brinklow resident, who did not wish to be named, said: “I feel safe. They said it’s the same company but that the cladding is different. I’m glad they are doing checks.”

Westminster’s Labour group has urged the council to provide residents with answers to pressing questions, such as providing clarity as to whether to stay in the flat, or leave, in the case of a fire in a block. The official advice was that it was usually safer to stay put unless your own flat was on fire, but this has been challenged since the disaster. They have also urged the council to install sprinkler systems in all their blocks and to look into the possibility of adding secondary fire escapes.

A council spokesman said: “We have visited all 41 of our tower blocks to review their fire evacuation plans and speak to residents about fire safety and will continue to do so over the coming days and weeks. We do not have sprinklers in Little Venice tower blocks and we are reviewing where retro-fitting in tower blocks may be appropriate as part of our wider review of fire safety.”

“We can confirm that Harley Facades supplied the over-cladding at six tower blocks on the Little Venice estate. The insulation material installed at Little Venice tower blocks has ‘Rockwool’ panels, which are non-flammable, thermal, panels directly fixed to the existing building fabric. This insulation is different to that which we understand was installed at Grenfell Tower. The specification for the outer layer is believed to be similar but not identical and our records show that fire-breaks are installed within the cladding system at various levels.

“The over-cladding at Little Venice tower blocks fully complied with all building regulation requirements. However, as a precaution, we are working with the Department for Communities and Local Government and independent specialists to carry out urgent checks on the cladding system and the way it was installed and these are already underway.”

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