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UK to probe widespread use of cladding after tower blaze

Prime Minister Theresa May promised an investigation Tuesday into the use of cladding on British high-rise buildings following the deadly Grenfell Tower fire, after safety tests on 95 similar blocks recorded a 100-percent failure rate.

The government has also said the problem may not be exclusive to tall buildings or social housing, and announced it will carry out safety checks on all hospitals and a number of government buildings.

“Something has clearly gone wrong over a number of years and we need to find out what, why and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” May told the BBC.

External cladding installed during a recent renovation has been widely blamed for the June 14 blaze on the 24-storey tower in west London which left 79 people presumed dead, including a five-year-old boy.

Around 600 tower blocks in England alone are believed to have similar tiling, prompting urgent checks and in the evacuation of thousands of residents over fears their homes are no longer safe.

The number of tower blocks in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales with similar cladding is not known.

By Tuesday morning, tests had been carried out on cladding in 95 residential blocks across 32 local areas, all installed since around 2000 — and concluded that 100 percent of the materials were combustible.

Addressing a meeting of her cabinet, May promised “a major national investigation” in how this had happened, her spokesman said.

The probe is expected to be part of a judge-led public inquiry already announced into the Grenfell blaze.

“Ministers have said that the public inquiry might be expected to look at why this cladding had been fitted in different parts of the country over a long number of years, and I’m confirming that,” the spokesman said.

The Grenfell fire was started by a faulty fridge, but spread rapidly up the block, trapping many residents in the upper floors.

Arconic, the US supplier of the cladding installed in a refurbishment completed only last year, announced Monday that it was stopping sales of the material for high-rise buildings.

– ‘Wakeful watch’ –
On Monday, Communities Minister Sajid Javid told MPs that there had been a “catastrophic failure”.

“Building regulations and the system for ensuring fire safety in buildings have been developed over many decades. Until the Grenfell fire, many experts would have claimed that system has served us well,” he said.

“But now we have witnessed a catastrophic failure, on a scale many thought impossible in 21st-century Britain.”

The minister also warned unsafe cladding “may not be a problem unique to social housing or tall buildings”.

All hospitals have been asked to conduct additional checks and 15 government buildings “require further investigation”, Javid said, without giving further details.

Thousands of residents from the Chalcots Estate in Camden, north London, were evacuated on Saturday, after an inspection showed four of the five towers were at risk over cladding, fire doors, gas pipes and insulation.

A landlord in Manchester, northwest England, said Tuesday that safety tests had failed on 16 of its tower blocks, all clad with a similar aluminium composite material to that used on the Grenfell, although the product was different.

Dave Power, group chief executive at One Manchester, said work would begin immediately to remove the cladding and additional safety measures were in place.

“24-hour security is now in operation in every tower block to provide a ‘wakeful watch’ to raise the alarm and manage the building evacuation in the event of a fire, which we hope will provide extra reassurance for our tenants,” he said.




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