Fire safety fear forces evacuation of London tower blocks

Updated: 

A major evacuation is taking place at a London housing estate over fire safety fears after the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Some 800 households in five tower blocks on the Chalcots Estate in Camden are being moved to temporary accommodation after firefighters said they could not guarantee the safety of the buildings, council leader Georgia Gould said.

The buildings have been found to be covered with the same type of cladding as used at Grenfell, five miles to the south west, where at least 79 people died in the June 14 tragedy.

Camden Council said late on Friday there were also concerns over "gas pipe insulation" that made a "decant" of residents "essential".

Ms Gould told Sky that council officials and firefighters had been examining the Chalcots buildings on Friday, and the decision to evacuate was made at around 6.30pm.

She said: "At the end of today, they told us they could not guarantee our residents' safety in those blocks and so I have made the really, really difficult decision to move the people living there into temporary accommodation while we do the urgent works to guarantee safety.

"I know it's difficult, but Grenfell changes everything and I just don't believe we can take any risk with our residents' safety and I have to put them first."

Camden Council initially said just 161 households in the Taplow building on the estate were being "temporarily decanted" to allow up to four weeks of work to the building.

But Ms Gould later told Sky the number had increased to include all the buildings, with a rest centre set up at Swiss Cottage Library.

There was confusion on the ground at the estate as people were told to leave as darkness began to fall, with some leaving with belongings in suitcases and carrier bags.

Some locals said they found out about the evacuation from watching breaking news on television.

The council had already announced it would immediately begin preparing to remove cladding from the five towers on the estate discovered in checks following the fire in north Kensington.

Refurbishment of the Chalcots estate was overseen by Rydon, the company involved in the refit of Grenfell Tower, according to the Rydon website.

The site said the Chalcots project was a £66 million refurbishment that lasted 191 weeks.

The work included external thermal rain screen cladding on five towers, new aluminium thermally broken windows on five towers and an overhaul of external roofs

It added that 711 flats were modernised with new wiring, heating, kitchens and bathrooms.

It came as four more victims of Grenfell Tower were formally identified, taking the known victims to nine.

Scotland Yard also revealed manslaughter charges are being considered by detectives investigating the blaze in the tower, which had failed fire safety tests.

Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted: "My thoughts are with residents being evacuated in Camden while their homes are made safe tonight.

"We will work with and support the emergency services and relevant authorities to safeguard the public.

"Have asked @sajidjavid to keep me regularly updated & ensure we are offering every support we can to residents & those working onsite."

Camden Council said officials were going door-to-door one at a time for safety reasons, starting at Taplow then working through Burnham, Bray, Blashford and Dorney.

A spokesman said residents would be allowed in at the weekend to collect more possessions "under escort from the London Fire Brigade" and recommended people pack enough belongings for a two to four-week stay.

The British Red Cross said it had staff helping residents at the rest centre.