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London fire: Executive 'unsure' if cladding on Northern Ireland tower blocks same as Grenfell

Cladding centre of investigation into fire - tower block residents in Northern Ireland have raised concerns

By Jonathan Bell

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has said it is unsure if cladding used on its tower blocks across Northern Ireland is the same as that used on the London Grenfell tower.

At least 12 people were killed when a huge fire engulfed the building in the west of the capital in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Residents in the tower's 140 flats have been left homeless and scores of people are in hospital, some in a critical condition.  London Fire Brigade says it expects to find no more survivors and the death toll is set to rise.

Read more: London Grenfell Tower fire: Fire Brigade don't expect any more survivors - death toll set to rise amid grim search for victims

The cladding used on the recently refurbished London tower has been the focus of how the fire spread rapidly through the building.

Colm McQuillan from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive said emergency meetings had been called in the wake of the London fire and checks were being made across all its 32 tower blocks. Four blocks have recently undergone refurbishment and had cladding installed.

We are not going to be complacent. Housing Executive

He said rigorous checks had been made on the cladding prior to installation because residents had expressed concerns on its use. He stressed that all materials met fire regulations.

But - as far as he was aware - it was not the same cladding as that used in the London fire.

Read more: London fire: Our high-rise life, by residents of Belfast's Divis tower

He said the Housing Executive will have completed its checks by Thursday as to if there were any similarities between cladding used in Northern Ireland and that used in the London tower block and the organisation would be publishing its findings. The 1,900 residents are to be re-issued safety advice and manufacturers of its cladding systems would be contacted.

"We are a responsible landlord we take fire safety and safety of tenants very seriously and we intend to do all in our power to ensure tenants they live in safe environment," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster.

where NI's 32 tower blocks are.jpg

Read more: Checks on all tower blocks in Northern Ireland in wake of London horror blaze

"We had tested our cladding before because there were concerns from residents in the blocks we were cladding, about the whole exercise in terms of what it was going to do for them in terms of efficiency and safety.

"We have rigorously tested the cladding that is going on to our buildings to an extent it fits and meets all fire safety regulations as far as we are concerned."

He continued: "But we are not going to be complacent.

"We have emergency meetings set up with the Fire Service today to actually go through any of their thoughts in terms of this tragedy and we will be working very closely with them in terms of what we should be doing. But as far as we are concerned at this particular point in time, we are fully compliant with all fire safety regulations that are in place."

While Northern Ireland tower blocks have alarm systems, they do not have sprinkler systems, the official said. Although he said this was not unusual and down to the age of the building.

Mr McQuillan said advice for residents in the event of a fire and if it wasn't in their flat was to remain in the property, but that would be re-considered in light of the fire.

"Flats are built on compartmentalised basis so that fire is not meant to spread," he added.

"The advice at the moment is, if there is a fire in your own property you get out and ring 999. If you can get out safely, in that it is not affecting your side of the building,  then you should get out, use staircase not the lifts.

"But the national advice is at the minute, if it is not in your flat then you should actually remain. There are fire resistant doors the building has been treated for fire safety.

"No one could have foreseen the tragedy that happened in London. We are pro-active landlord and really concerned safety of residents."

He added: "As I have said we are fully compliant with fire and safety regulations, we work with the fire service, they actually use our buildings for training and they carry out checks alongside ourselves. We carry out regular checks and we do take those very seriously."

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