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Grenfell fire: Sajid Javid orders urgent review of 4,000 tower blocks

The government has ordered an urgent review of 4,000 tower blocks across the UK in response to the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower that killed at least 30 people.

Communities secretary Sajid Javid has said there can be “no shortcuts” in response to the tragic fire that broke out in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Javid said: “We have already started an emergency review of all similar buildings throughout the country.

“We are in touch with local authorities and social housing providers and we have asked them to start compiling a list of what falls into that category.

“There are about 4,000 high-rise buildings in the country but not all of them have been re-cladded, but also let’s not just make the assumption that this is all about cladding.

“We need to be led by the experts and as soon as we have more information from the experts, which we expect either later today or certainly over the weekend, that is what I think should be used to do these emergency inspections.”

Mr Javid added that the government would “do whatever is necessary” to make the country’s towers safe.

Councils and housing associations are also considering new safety measures and reviewing their refurbishment programmes across their properties in the wake of the devastating fire.

Ian Munro, chief executive of Manchester-based New Charter housing association and regional chair of the National Housing Federation, said there would be heightened considerations for companies involved in refurb programmes.

He said: “Anybody who is about to go into a contract would be daft not to ask the question [over refurbishment and fire safety] and ask themselves what this means for them.

“We have made sure we have all our fire assessments up to date and are checking the cladding on our blocks. I am also now considering fitting sprinkler systems to the blocks we have.

“The speed at which the fire spread was frightening, everyone could see that. We have to wait until the results of the investigation to understand the causes of that spread, but there are suspicions over the effect the cladding had on the spread of the fire.”

Boris Worrall, group chief executive at the 6,500-home Rooftop Housing Association, said: “We have taken a look at the products we have used for external wall insulation in our low-rise blocks and we are comfortable with what we found, but everyone will be looking long and hard about the materials they use.

“I can’t imagine people in my position not checking these things now and not thinking about it.

“It is such a terrible thing to witness; it brings home just how important these things are.

“I do think that something of this magnitude asks us as a society to think about the types of homes we build, about what is right, how can we be a fair and equitable society, and what we can build to the quality and quantity we need.”

Councils across London as well as other cities throughout the UK have been conducting urgent reviews of safety at high-rise buildings.

A spokesperson for Lambeth Borough Council confirmed the authority had conducted meetings with health and safety advisers to discuss towers in the borough with similar designs to Grenfell.

The spokesperson said: “Something like this does trigger a review, as you can think everything is fine in terms of meeting health and safety standards and then something like this happens and you see there may be a flaw in the system.

“Lambeth councillors will be keen to see how that fire became so ferocious and are awaiting the outcome of the investigation and looking at our blocks after that.

“We will be conducting a review alongside the programme of works which is ongoing in the borough.”

Bristol City Council head of housing Paul Smith said it has taken a fresh look at the system it has used for refurbishment work.

“The issue for me is how the fire spread so quickly – we don’t use that type of cladding system at Bristol, our cladding systems are very different to those in Glenfell,” he said. 

“However, we do not want to judge anything until the results of a fire investigation are known.

“We are really shocked and horrified by what’s happened but we are not jumping to conclusions.”

A Camden Council spokesperson would not be drawn on whether the authority would revist refurbishment work on its towers.

However, they said the council would respond to any new advice from the London Fire Brigade.

“All housing blocks on our estates receive fire risk assessments and additional fire safety checks will now be made to continue to reassure residents,” the spokesperson said.

“We stand ready to respond to any new advice from London Fire Brigade that may emerge from today’s tragic incident.”

Tower Hamlets council mayor John Biggs said it had written to all residentd to reassure them that safety is the council’s number one priority.

“Resident safety is our top priority and so the council is looking closely at what lessons we can learn from the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The work Tower Hamlets Homes has carried out means that all 900 THH blocks have been Fire Risk Assessed in the last nine months and we are working to address any issues raised.

“The council will continue to work with THH, other landlords and residents to ensure fire safety is prioritised. We are also reviewing and encouraging RPs to check the situation of all blocks, particularly high rise blocks, which have had cladding added, as this is inevitably a very topical and immediate concern.”

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