Test results in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster have revealed that 60 high-rise buildings in 25 different areas of England are unsafe, the UK government has confirmed.
The number rose from 34 tower blocks across 17 local authorities. The announcement came after Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, revealed all of the buildings that have so far submitted cladding samples have failed combustibility tests.
"We expect that authorities and landlords are very sensibly giving the highest priority to buildings with which they have most concern. But we should not be in the position where buildings have such cladding on them. How this occurred – and preventing this from happening again – is likely to be a key question for the public inquiry," Mr Javid said on Saturday.
The news came as the Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, said that the "frankly outrageous" lack of clarity on the death toll of the Grenfell disaster was "driving a wedge between authorities and those they are elected to serve", and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said the 79 declared victims were "murdered by political decisions".
There are concerns over the cladding used on the buildings after reports that the materials used on the Kensington tower in North Kensingtonblock, in which at least 79 people are believed to have died, caused the fire to get out of control.
The towers deemed unsafe so far are in Manchester, Portsmouth and Sunderland, as well as in Norwich, Doncaster, Stockton-on-Tees and Plymouth and in seven London boroughs. They are: Barnet, Brent and Camden, as well as Hounslow, Islington, Lambeth and Wandsworth. A further 11 areas, accounting for 27 of the unsafe buildings, have yet to be named.
Sunderland and Camden – where an entire estate housing about 4,000 people was being evacuated over the weekend – share the greatest number, with five towers each.
Downing Street sources said Theresa May would chair a meeting of the Grenfell task force on Monday morning.
As part of the response, ministers announced that tests would be carried out on materials used on hundreds of social housing buildings amid fears their cladding could be similar to that used on Grenfell Tower.
The department for communities and local government (DCLG) put in place a “combustibility testing programme” for aluminium composite material; some of which has been deemed unsafe. The cladding features two sheets of aluminium sandwiching a second material. In some cases, that material is not sufficiently fire-resistant.
“This is able to test 100 samples a day, and, if needed, yet further laboratory capacity could be provided,” the DCLG said on Saturday. However, the government’s latest figures suggest that only the results of 60 tests have been received since it said it would open its facilities up to councils on 19 June.
On Sunday, authorities in Liverpool said they would remove cladding from two high-rise blocks after government tests. The social housing provider, One Vision Housing, said results showed "certain elements of the cladding" on Cygnet House and Wren House in the Bootle area met building regulations but not test criteria laid down by the DCLG.
Work to remove cladding from nine towers ahead of the results of government tests started in Salford on Sunday.
In a statement the Local Government Association emphasised that a failed cladding test would not necessarily mean the evacuation of a block: “Where cladding fails the test, this will not necessarily mean moving residents from tower blocks. In Camden, the decision to evacuate was based on fire inspectors’ concerns about a combination of other fire hazards together with the cladding.
The authorities have so far said they believe at least 79 people died in the disaster but the local community, and others, have suggested that figure is low and questioned why the authorities have been unable to be more accurate.
Police adhere to Interpol’s disaster victim identification standards, which call for a lengthy and time-consuming process to identify the dead. And Met police protocols say that there should be “no speculation on fatality figures and the police should only confirm the number of dead after they have a true and accurate picture”.
But Lammy, who lost a friend in the fire, said that the lack of solid information was “feeding suspicion of a cover-up” in a lengthy statement posted on Twitter.
“Almost two weeks on and having spent time with the survivors this week it is difficult to describe the pain people are going through. Holding out hope for loved ones that they know deep down lost their lives in Grenfell is eating people up inside and breaking them down.
“Trust is at rock bottom in the community. Failure to provide updates of the true number that died is feeding suspicion of a cover-up. Lack of information about number of victims and survivors is driving a wedge between authorities and those they are elected to serve.
“Residents saw dozens of people jumping out of windows to escape the fire. Bodies piled up in stairwells and corridors. Survivors cannot believe that the death toll has not risen. Speaking to people on the ground, there is huge suspicion of a cover-up, with information being withheld for political reasons in an attempt to avoid fuelling anger or unrest. But it is frankly outrageous,” Lammy wrote.
He said the authorities should be able to use information, such as on mobile phone usage on the night and data from government agencies, to work out roughly how many people were in the tower when the fire started. But he acknowledged that sub-letting and the reluctance of undocumented migrants to come forward would make an exact figure difficult to reach.
“The fact is that the longer this goes on, the bigger the disconnect between [the council] and the community.
“There is zero trust right now. If the true numbers are withheld, the authorities will never regain the trust of the people and the community. It’s that simple. So the authorities need to come forward now with whatever information they have to address the suspicion that a cover-up is underway.”
– (Guardian service)