United Kingdom

'It's a miracle no one died', says 14th floor resident of fire-ravaged tower block

Grenfell survivors last night told ministers ‘enough is enough’ after a fire ripped through an East London tower block covered in the same deadly cladding yesterday.

The blaze engulfed three floors of the 19-storey New Providence Wharf development near Canary Wharf, leaving 44 people needing medical treatment.

Terrified residents said it was unacceptable that the cladding had not been replaced almost four years on from the Grenfell fire in June 2017, which claimed 72 lives. A Government spokesman said work had been due to start on Monday.

Leaseholders in the block are paying £47,000 a month for a 24-hour fire patrol that is supposed to raise the alarm in the event of a blaze. 

But incredibly, several said they were alerted to the fire only by Whats-App messages from other residents or people knocking on their doors.

The blaze engulfed three floors of the 19-storey New Providence Wharf development near Canary Wharf

Nadim Ahmad, 43, who lives with his wife and three daughters on the 14th floor, said: ‘It’s a miracle no one died.’

He said he was alerted only when his wife phoned from outside and screamed for him to get out. ‘There was nothing to tell us to evacuate,’ he said. ‘I was physically knocked back by the amount of smoke in the pitch-black corridors. They were full of people screaming and panicking.’

The blaze will intensify pressure on ministers to fix the cladding crisis. The Daily Mail has been campaigning to end the scandal, which affects around four million leaseholders and has led to fears of a repeat of the Grenfell disaster.

Survivors’ and relatives’ group Grenfell United said: ‘When will the Government take this scandal seriously? Enough is enough.

‘The Government promised to remove dangerous cladding by June 2020 – it has failed to meet its own target and every day that goes by lives are at risk. Today more people have lost their homes in another terrifying fire.’

The blaze erupted just before 9am on the eighth floor of Block D of New Providence Wharf, before gutting the two floors above.

Two adults were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation and a further 38 adults and four children were treated at the scene, London Fire Brigade said. Twenty fire engines and 125 crew were sent to the blaze.

Fire fighters inspect the damage at New Providence Wharf on Fairmont Avenue in Poplar in east London

Residents said work to remove the cladding had been due to start last year and criticised building owner Ballymore for delays. Ballymore, which houses more than 20,000 residents across the UK and Ireland, was named by the Government earlier this year as one of 14 companies that had failed to remove cladding on private developments.

The firm said ‘enabling works’ on New Providence Wharf had begun two weeks ago, but one leaseholder said this involved ‘moving some plants’.

The repair bill is expected to be £11.6million, of which £8million is covered by Government funding. But Ballymore is offering only £500,000 despite making £97million profit last year. It leaves leaseholders to pay £2.5million at an average of £4,000 each.

Meanwhile, their service charge has soared by 77 per cent to £9,000 over the past four years. Natalie Clarke, 43, who lives on the third floor, said: ‘We’re stuck in a building that could kill us and the costs are going through the roof. Ballymore don’t seem to care and frankly the Government’s been no help.’

More than 100 fire fighters and 20 crews tackled the New Providence Wharf blast at its peak

The cause of the fire remains unknown, although residents suggested it may have been a fuse box. Cladding expert Dr Jonathan Evans said the blaze appeared to have spread due to the narrow gap between floors, meaning the flames simply ‘rolled over’ into the flats above.

He said it was ‘pure luck’ that the blaze hadn’t caught a large strip of cladding on the right-hand side of the flats or ‘you would have lost that entire column’.

Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley said: ‘This is a wake-up call for the Government. Homes must be made safe urgently. Ministers have to provide comprehensive funding then claim it back from those responsible.’

A Government spokesman said: ‘Ministers have met Ballymore repeatedly to urge action.’

A Ballymore spokesman said the cladding on the building did not combust and ‘played no part in causing or facilitating the fire’. 

Why is the cladding still there, why is it taking so long and what happens next? 

WHY IS THE CLADDING STILL THERE?

Leaseholders at New Providence Wharf say their cladding was identified just months after Grenfell, but work to remove it has still not begun. The block is one of 469 buildings with ACM cladding, but work has been completed onjust 247. The initial target for completing this work was June 2020, but is now the end of 2021. It is thought there could be more than 11,000 buildings with other types of cladding where work has barely started.

WHY IS IT TAKING SO LONG?

Leaseholders say the initial delay was due to a lack of Government funding and the refusal of their building owner, Ballymore, to cover the costs. But even after extra funds were made available, it has been slow to be released. Ballymore said it mobilised swiftly once funding was confirmed. Experts say these problems are symptomatic of the crisis across the country.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

It will add to pressure on ministers to stump up the funding necessary to ensure work can be completed as quickly as possible. The current fund is £5.1billion, but doesn’t cover buildings below 18 metres (60ft) or non-cladding-related defects, such as missing fire breaks. MPs estimate it will cost £15billion to fix all unsafe buildings, but work cannot start until cash is available.

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