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Council leader: I could not let people sleep another night at Chalcots estate

Georgia Gould says questions must be answered over problems with Chalcot estate buildings

24 June, 2017 — By William McLennan

CAMDEN Council leader Georgia Gould gave the order to evacuate the entire Chalcots estate after being told by fire inspectors that problems with gas pipes, fire doors and cladding at the tower blocks could lead to a catastrophic blaze.

The unprecedented mass evacuation of 800 flats across the five high-rises in Adelaide Road, the street which runs from Chalk Farm tube station to Swiss Cottage Library, was made after 5pm on Friday afternoon, forcing residents to depart through the evening and night. Those without friends and family to stay with had to find emergency arrangements including airbeds provided by the council at Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre.

In a series of statements delivered through the night, Cllr Gould said she had no other option but to ask people to leave their homes and suggested an inquiry – at a council level at least – will be held into problems on the estate, the subject of a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) refurbishment only ten years ago. “Questions about how this could happen to these buildings will be asked, answered and actioned,” she said.

At midnight, she spoke to a New Journal journalist – see footage below – as we asked her what she would say to residents who felt the timing and speed of the evacuation was an “overreaction”. Residents have been divided in their opinion on this, with some praising swift action and others regarding the move as a sign of panic. Cllr Gould said: “The last thing I wanted to do is move residents out of their homes on a Friday evening. I asked the fire services if there was anything I could do, use any resources to make this building safe for people to stay in – and their answer was categorically no.”

A midnight briefing for the CNJ at Taplow tower: Georgia Gould says she couldn’t let residents stay once fire inspectors had issued warnings 

Cllr Gould and the Town Hall leadership had already said on Thursday morning that it would remove cladding at the estate after testing revealed it contained a similar plastic to the material used at Grenfell Tower, the block in north Kensington where 79 people died or are missing, presumed dead, following last Wednesday’s tragic inferno.

Camden had said it believed the blocks were still safe as the cladding had been installed differently but wanted to remove it as a “precaution”. It was the first council in the country to make this decision in the wake of last week’s disaster. Inspectors today are understood to have raised urgent concerns over gas pipes near to the cladding which were not properly insulated and doors to people’s flats that were not fire safe, some of which had been tampered with.

“We have hundreds of council staff, police and fire officers, the British Red Cross, and other voluntary partners, all supporting residents and our phased plan to move residents from the blocks,” said Cllr Gould, who has been the leader of the council for just over a month. “All staff involved are doing everything they can to make this operation run as quickly and as safely as possible – they really are showing the very spirit that makes Camden the special place that it is.”

She added: “On Friday evening the London Fire Brigade advised that there were a number of fire safety issues, that we and the LFB were previously unaware of, in the Chalcots buildings and recommended that residents should not remain in the buildings until these issues are resolved Acting on this advice we evacuated our residents. The Grenfell fire changes everything and we will do everything we can to keep residents safe.”

Her later statement said: “We are still working our way through a phased operation, with residents from hundreds of homes supported as they move to their temporary accommodation. Our social workers are providing specialist support for residents with social care packages, with extra capacity provided for specialist care accommodation for those who need it. We are also working around the clock to support a number of other needs, including pets and animals. An operation of this scale, at such pace, is not without issues and problems along the way, but we had to do this, we have to act on fire service advice.”

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