Thousands of people could be evacuated from tower blocks across the UK as checks continue for “combustible” cladding and internal safety risks following the Grenfell Tower disaster.
At least 34 buildings have failed tests in 17 local authority areas, including Manchester, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Hounslow, Brent and Camden, which was the first to evacuate residents.
The Department of Communities and Local Government said the number of affected towers could rise as assessments continue.
Bernard Priest, the deputy leader of Manchester City Council said all high-rise properties with cladding were undergoing tests with results due back “very soon”.
He said decorative cladding had been removed from a block in Wythenshawe as a precaution, adding: “We aren’t just looking at cladding, reviews are also looking at all the other risks we know about at the moment from Grenfell – including the issue of compartmentalisation.”
Authorities in Manchester said they were not ruling out the possibility of evacuations pending the result of examinations, while Plymouth and Portsmouth councils announced plans to remove cladding found to be combustible but had not been advised to evacuate residents.
Jeremy Corbyn said the growing scale of the threat demanded coordinated national action including a meeting of the emergency Cobra committee.
“Tower blocks across the country have now failed fire safety tests in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster,” the Labour leader said. “This is now a nationwide threat.”
The Liberal Democrats called for a “civil emergency” to be declared and a fund to compensate those forced to leave their homes.
Baroness Brinton, who is on the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group, said: “Camden Council did the right thing by promptly evacuating unsafe tower blocks.
“But those affected need to be treated fairly and with dignity.”
As the first evacuations started on Friday night, the Prime Minister said her thoughts were with residents being evacuated from the Chalcots estate “while their homes are made safe”.
The residents of around 650 flats had to flee their homes carrying belongings and pets, including a hedgehog and parrot, after the London Fire Brigade found it was unsafe for them to remain.
But more than 80 people initially refused to leave the four affected blocks, prompting warnings of legal action from the council.
Leader Georgia Gould said: “There are various legal routes that Camden Council could explore to require people to leave their homes – however, we really don’t want to do this.
“We want to work with residents who are yet to evacuate and strongly encourage them to leave their homes and fix up temporary accommodation.
“We need to get the buildings empty so we can work with our partners to start the work to make these tower blocks safe, so that everyone can return to their normal lives as soon as possible.”
Ms Gould said £100,000 of council funds had been committed to pay for evacuated residents’ food and supplies, on top of £500,000 already spent on hotel rooms while temporary accommodation is organised.
Dan Daly, the LFB’s Assistant Commissioner for fire safety, said “essential works” were required in four tower blocks in the Chalcots estate.
“Officers identified concerns relating to services that have been run through compartment walls leading to possible breaches in the building’s ability to stop fire spreading,” he added.
“There were also concerns that some fire doors in the building are not working as they should, meaning that in the event of a fire it could spread to other parts of the building.
“These issues are in addition to the now widely understood concerns regarding external cladding.”
Camden Council said there was particular concern over the insulation of gas pipes, while starting internal safety modifications and the removal of cladding.
The blocks were refurbished between 2006 and 2009 by the same firm, Rydon, that oversaw work completed at Grenfell Tower last year and with the same type of aluminium composite (ACM) panels.
Police said the fire that killed at least 79 people on 14 June started in a Hotpoint fridge-freezer before spreading to “combustible” cladding and insulation that has failed safety tests.
Investigators said the “terrible reality” of destruction inside the building meant it may be impossible to identify all those killed in the blaze, while shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott claimed the real toll was in the “hundreds”.
Investigators probing all companies involved in refurbishment works are considering criminal charges including manslaughter amid public anger over revelations warnings by residents were ignored.
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