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600 residential towers have similar combustible cladding, warns UK govt

High-rise buildings in Britain have similar cladding to the block in West London

Press Trust of India  |  London 

The scorched facade of the Grenfell Tower in London, Thursday, June 15, 2017. Photo: AP/PTI
The scorched facade of the Grenfell Tower in London, Thursday, June 15, 2017. Photo: AP/PTI

About 600 high-rise buildings in Britain have similar cladding to the block in west London that was gutted in a massive blaze, the government warned on Thursday, as the first head rolled in the aftermath of the tragedy with the local council's chief executive resigning amid criticism.

Urgent tests in the wake of the disaster that killed at least 79 people have so far revealed that the flammable material has been found on at least three tower blocks across the UK, Prime Minister told the House of Commons.

However, Downing Street later disclosed that English councils estimated that 600 high-rise buildings used similar cladding to the in west London that was the scene of last week's tragedy.

Addressing questions about whether any of the blocks will be evacuated, a spokeswoman said, "Obviously nobody will be living in buildings that are unsafe. They will be rehoused if they need to be."

Meanwhile, Nicholas Holgate, the head of the Kensington and Chelsea Council, claimed he was forced to step down over the authority's response to the fire tragedy by the government's Communities and Local Government department.

May, in a statement to the House of Commons this morning, said that the council "couldn't cope" in the aftermath of the fire, and that it "was right" that the chief executive had stepped down.

She also told Parliament that additional fire safety checks carried out on similar tall buildings and towers blocks in the city had revealed that the cladding used in some cases was made up of "combustible" material.

"As a precaution, the government has arranged to test cladding in all relevant tower blocks. Shortly before I came to the chamber, I was informed that a number of these tests have come back as combustible," she said.

"The relevant local authorities and local fire services have been informed, and, as I speak, they are taking all possible steps to ensure buildings are safe and to inform affected residents," May said.

While the cause of the fire is yet to be confirmed, there is widespread speculation that it was the rain-screen cladding used on the outside of the building for insulation purposes that led to the fire spreading too rapidly.

The British premier told Parliament that as many as 151 homes had been destroyed in the massive fire on June 14, most of them in and some in the vicinity of the building.

She said that all survivors will be rehoused in equivalent homes and that around 68 flats have already been offered at cost price in a new block of flats in the area.

"For any guilty parties, there will be nowhere to hide," she said, adding that the Grenfell Tower investigation will not be used as a pretext to carry out immigration checks.

"I would like to reassure people that we will not use this tragic incident as a reason to carry out immigration checks on those involved or on those providing information to identify victims or those assisting with the criminal investigation," May said.

"We will make sure that all victims, irrespective of their immigration status, will be able to access the services they need, including healthcare and accommodation," she said.

Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn also welcomed the resignation of the Kensington and Chelsea council chief executive but called for more action against the local council.

In his resignation statement, council chief Holgate said, "Serving the families so desperately affected by the heart- breaking tragedy at Grenfell Tower remains the highest priority of the council. If I stayed in post, my presence would be a distraction."

"I strongly believe that councillors and officers have always endeavoured to have the interests of our residents at heart and will continue to do so," he added.

Holgate said the Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid had "required the leader of the council to seek my resignation".

However, a spokesperson from the Department for Communities and Local Government denied involvement, saying, "The appointment of chief executives is entirely the responsibility of the local authority.

First Published: Thu, June 22 2017. 19:32 IST