Cladding on these Northern Ireland flats may be same as Grenfell Tower
Hundreds evacuated in London over fire safety fears
A high-rise apartment block in central Belfast is suspected of being encased in the same kind of cladding used on London's Grenfell Tower.
It was confirmed yesterday that external panels from a block of flats at Durham Street have been sent for tests to determine whether they are the same as those implicated in the horrific London blaze.
Last night residents from five tower blocks in the Chalcots estate in the London borough of Camden were evacuated after a fire inspection found them to be unsafe. The cladding on the tower blocks was reported to be similar to Grenfell Tower in west London, where a disastrous fire left 79 people dead.
In Belfast Durham House - owned by Radius Housing Association - was built in 1974 as offices, and converted into flats in 1997.
Planning permission for its demolition and replacement by a new seven-storey, 35-flat block was approved by Belfast City Council last October.
Radius Housing Association said the Durham Street building - which currently has 26 tenants and 13 empty flats - will be given special 24-hour safety monitoring while fire tests are carried out.
"The safety and well-being of our residents is of paramount importance," it said.
"Like many organisations across the UK, Radius has carried out additional fire inspections across properties in recent weeks. Cladding panels from Durham House have been sent for precautionary tests to BRE Group and Ulster University.
"The purpose of these tests is to determine the type of material used in the cladding and whether it is flammable. If the panels pose a potential risk, then we will act accordingly. We have liaised with residents at Durham House and will work to ensure they continue to feel safe and comfortable in their homes. There will now be an additional 24-hour presence on site to provide safety monitoring. The building is compliant with current fire regulations and is subject to regular fire risk assessments." Housing associations are voluntary sector bodies which are overseen and funded by the Department for Communities.
There are around 20 such housing associations in Northern Ireland.
Last night the NI Federation of Housing Associations said it was in the process of determining the type of cladding used by its members.
The Department for Communities said there were 19 high-rise properties in Northern Ireland owned by housing associations, and that surveys had been completed to establish the nature of any cladding used on them
"Of those that have cladding, one has a type of cladding which may be of the same type as that used on Grenfell Tower," it revealed.
"The fact that the material seems to be similar to that used at Grenfell Tower does not automatically mean it is combustible, as there are several different types of this cladding system. However, a sample has been sent to be tested."
The results of the tests are expected within a few days, it added.
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has already confirmed that none of its high-rise blocks has been clad with the aluminium composite material suspected of playing a key role in accelerating the killer Kensington inferno.