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Grenfell Tower fire: Other London high-rises ‘combustible,’ May says

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(CNN) — Initial tests have revealed that the cladding on a number of high-rise apartment blocks in London are combustible, British Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons Thursday during a statement about last week’s fatal Grenfell Tower blaze.

May said that at least 100 buildings a day are being tested and that residents will be informed of the findings. She added that the authorities and fire services are working to ensure their buildings remain safe.

As of Thursday morning, combustible cladding has been found on at least three tower blocks across the UK, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The Prime Minister also told Parliament that the Grenfell Tower block cladding is being tested and a statement is expected to be made by police and fire services in the next 48 hours.

At least 79 people are dead or missing and presumed dead following the blaze that tore through the 24-story high-rise, home to 125 families, in the early hours of June 14.

May said that 151 homes were destroyed in the fire. She added that 164 properties have been found to rehouse residents and are currently undergoing inspection.

“I know many others living in tall residential buildings will have concerns about their safety after what happened at Grenfell,” May said.

“All social landlords have been instructed to carry out additional fire safety checks on tower blocks and ensure the appropriate safety and response measures are in place.”

“We’ve also taken steps to make private landlords aware and make our checking facilities available to them for free.”

May also stressed that anyone affected by the fire would be able to access the extra facilities, including medical and financial advice being laid on by the government, regardless of their immigration status.

A local community center has been set up to help offer residents advice on healthcare, finance as well as provide new passports and driving licenses.

“I would like to reassure people that we will not use this tragic incident as a reason to carry out immigration checks on those involved or on those providing information to identify victims or those assisting with the criminal investigation,” she added.

“We will make sure that all victims, irrespective of their immigration status, will be able to access the services they need, including healthcare and accommodation.”

Council chief resigns

Earlier Thursday, the chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea council, where Grenfell Tower is located, resigned from his post.

Nicholas Holgate said that he had been asked to step down from his role by Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid.

His resignation, which was welcomed by the Prime Minister, comes after accusations that the council failed to deal with the aftermath of the disaster.

On Wednesday, May apologized for the government’s failure to offer residents adequate support in the hours after the blaze.

“That was a failure of the state — local and national — to help people when they needed it most,” she said.

Her statement on Wednesday spelled out further how the residents will be helped. The measures include:

  • Each family to receive a down payment from emergency fund
  • Everyone to be rehoused within three weeks
  • An independent public inquiry to be chaired by a judge
  • All those with an interest, including the survivors and victims’ families, to be consulted and help with legal costs provided

May said it was clear that the local authority, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, could not cope with the disaster and that steps would be taken to improve future efforts.

Luxury apartment complex

As efforts continue to find permanent housing for those made homeless by the fire, the government said Wednesday that 68 apartments in a luxury London housing complex in Kensington Row would be allocated to Grenfell Tower residents.

The acquisition of the flats, built as new social housing within the swish development, was a “significant step” toward meeting its promise of rehousing families from Grenfell Tower within the local area, it said in a news release.

Prices for apartments in the complex, located about 1½ miles south of Grenfell Tower in a highly desirable area, start at £1.6 million ($2 million) for private buyers, according to Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Photographs of show apartments for sale highlight their plush interiors and extensive views over London.

The homes acquired by the government will be a mix of one, two and three bedroom flats across two blocks, the news release said.

Extra construction staff have been taken on in a bid to get the social housing apartments ready as soon as possible, it added, with work due to be finished by the end of July.