Four privately owned tower blocks fail cladding safety tests
Town Hall refuses to name high-rise buildings due to ‘public safety risks’
23 March, 2018 — By Samantha Booth
Islington housing chief Cllr Diarmaid Ward and, right, Green Party councillor Caroline Russell
FOUR privately owned tower blocks in Islington have failed cladding safety tests – and the Town Hall is keeping their locations secret.
Housing chief Cllr Diarmaid Ward said he could not reveal the locations of the properties due to “government guidance” that it could pose “public safety risks”. The council also fear that if the information got into the “wrong hands” it could be used by arsonists to target vulnerable residential buildings.
Cllr Ward said: “Obviously it’s a balancing act. You have to balance the rights of the public to know these things with any public safety risk.”
As directed by the government, the council has been collating details of towers in the borough since the Grenfell Tower fire.
The Tribune began questioning the council about the number of properties involved earlier this week. Last night (Thursday), it knew about four privately owned high-rise buildings which have “ACM cladding” that failed safety tests after the blaze.
This number was originally eight, then five, then dropped to four as the landlords told the council their buildings are below 18 metres – the government’s definition of a tall building.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) also refused to release information about the locations, adding that it was a matter for individual councils. However, in November, in a letter seen by the Tribune, the MHCLG said it did believe there were “public safety risks” and it was deemed “appropriate” for it to withhold information that could lead to the identification of affected buildings.
Some councils have released the information publicly.
“The government has been very clear,” said Cllr Ward.
“My first duty is always with the safety of the people of Islington and it would be entirely remiss of me to ignore safety advice from the government.”
When asked if owners had told the council if they had informed residents, Cllr Ward said: “I don’t have any concerns at the moment about lack of cooperation with private landlords.”
Green Party councillor Caroline Russell, the borough’s sole opposition councillor, said she agreed with the council’s stance.
But she added: “I absolutely understand why the government has issued the guidance, I understand why the council is sticking to this, but transparency should allow residents to hold managers to account.
“We ought to have in the public domain a timeline of when the issues will be corrected so that the council, housing associations and private landlords can be held to account.”
It was revealed to the Tribune last night how 25 Goswell Road, in Clerkenwell, failed the tests.
A spokesman for Notting Hill Housing, a housing association which is the leaseholder, said that when it was built it conformed with building regulations.
It has now put in place 24-hour surveillance and is replacing the “stay-put” policy with a new fire alarm system. It intends to remove the cladding, but no date has yet been fixed.
The council said London Fire Brigade has already inspected, or has plans to inspect, all of the privately-owned buildings with the cladding.
The only council-owned block which had ACM (aluminium composite material) cladding was Braithwaite House, in Finsbury, where the cladding was removed by the council last year, which the council did publicly announce.
An Islington Council spokesman said: “We are working with the owners of tall private residential blocks to ensure, where necessary, ACM cladding is removed.
“Where it does need to be removed, we have confirmed that interim measures are in place to keep residents safe.
“Where we do not have cooperation, we will consider use of our enforcement powers.”
An MHCLG spokesman said: “Public safety is our absolute priority and following the Grenfell Tower tragedy we swiftly set up a comprehensive building safety programme.
“Interim measures have been put in place to ensure buildings are safe now, while remediation work is ongoing.”