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Chalcots estate: council should have ‘called fire brigade’s bluff and not evacuated’

Residents' leader said evacuation was “unnecessarily traumatic and damaging”

10 August, 2017 — By William McLennan

A RESIDENTS’ group at one of the Chalcots towers has labelled the evacuation of thousands of people as “unnecessary” and said that Camden Council should have “called the bluff of the fire service”.

Anthony Royle, who chairs Bray tenants’ and residents’ association, has written to council leader Georgia Gould saying that the drastic measure taken late on June 23 was “unnecessarily traumatic and damaging to our residents”.

Camden asked 3,000 people in four tower blocks along Adelaide Road to leave their homes at a moment’s notice after London Fire Brigade said that internal safety defects, alongside the discovery that the blocks were wrapped in flammable cladding, meant they were not safe to sleep in.

Mr Royle’s letter adds: “To avoid this, you chose to invite all residents to leave for four to six weeks while corrective adjustments be made to the fire safety of the homes and the blocks as instructed by the LFB.”

The fire brigade told the council that if it did not act, it would issue a legal order, known as Article 31, giving it power to force people out of their homes.

But Mr Royle believes “that it was better to call the bluff of the fire service and let them impose the [Article] 31, if they dare to be judged in the court of public opinion”.

Instead, he says that Camden was “seen as the perpetrators of this very severe and damaging decision” while the fire brigade is “hiding behind the council’s skirts”.

He adds that he feels it would have been “far preferable to have done this work in a gradual and phased programme over many weeks without the panic and chaos that ensued”.

He is not the first to question the advice of the fire brigade. One source at the Town Hall asked why no other tower blocks across the country had been evacuated, when more than 100 are covered in cladding that failed government fire safety tests.

Camden Council was first in line to have cladding tested, after it was revealed that the contractors responsible for refurbishing Grenfell Tower had also carried out work at the Chalcots.

It was the first council to confirm to residents on June 22 that cladding at its homes had failed fire safety tests.

Late the next day, Cllr Gould said: “The fire service told me today that this block was not safe for people to sleep in overnight. Knowing that, I could not ask residents to stay here for an extra night.”

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