Earlier this month, people across London were devastated by the horrific fire at Grenfell and the tragic loss of so many lives. We know that many questions are now being asked all across the country, about the safety of tower blocks and cladding.
In Camden, we were shocked to hear that the contractor and supplier that completed the cladding on the Chalcots tower blocks were the same ones who did the works at Grenfell. Residents wanted to know that their building was safe and they wanted to know that fire safety had been checked and that inspections were being done of all of our fire safety equipment. We called a public meeting last week so that these questions could be answered and we have worked closely with the council since then, to make sure that fire safety procedures and all of our equipment is tested.
None of us were really prepared last Thursday morning to hear that the outer layer of cladding on the Chalcots had failed the safety test. It was shocking news and we were pleased that Camden decided to take action right away and to replace these panels. We were also pleased that they committed to providing fire blankets and fire marshals for every block 24/7, until the works were completed.
It was even more of a shock, when we were told last Friday night that four of the towers - Dorney, Bray, Burnham and Taplow - had to be evacuated, due to safety concerns highlighted by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) during their inspections on Friday. LFB told Camden that there was nothing else that could be done, as the measure that ensure that the building can be compartmentalized in the event of a fire, were not in place. That meant that 3000 residents had to be told to leave their homes right away and found alternative accommodation. Blashford has not been evacuated as it has a different design to the other four blocks and did not have all of the same issues.
We worked through the day and night over the weekend and have spent long hours this week out on the Chalcots estate to support local residents and to help them to get the information they needed. We have also continued to work at the emergency rest centre, reassuring residents and helping to book accommodation.
The contractors are now working 24 hours a day to get the work complete, so that families can move back into their homes. They are installing door closure mechanisms, replacing all doors with fireproof doors, and making sure that fire stopping is in place between floors.
We will be asking questions at the Full Council meeting on Monday about how it is possible that flammable panels were attached to the building as part of the PFI works, why fire safety on the Chalcots Estate was not up to standard, and how we can be sure that our other buildings in Camden are safe. These are important questions and need to be answered, as the human and financial cost of this breach cannot be ignored.
It's been a challenging time in Belsize, but please feel reassured that your ward councillors are here for you. Please do get in touch if we can help, or if you’d like to help neighbours who have been evacuated.