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PM urged to give families ‘peace of mind’ by removing cladding after flats fire

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has called on Boris Johnson to take action following a blaze in Bolton.

Firefighters at the scene in Bolton (Peter Byrne/PA)
Firefighters at the scene in Bolton (Peter Byrne/PA)

By Kim Pilling, PA

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has called on Boris Johnson to give families living in tower blocks with cladding “peace of mind” following a fire at student flats in Bolton on Friday night.

An investigation is under way into the cause of the blaze at a student accommodation block which spread “extremely rapidly” to the upper floors of the building, known as The Cube.

The top floor, which houses students from the University of Bolton, was gutted and visible damage was caused to the fourth and fifth floors of the six-storey building.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service would not be drawn on how the fire started but confirmed the privately owned building did not have the same type of cladding that combusted in the Grenfell Tower fire of 2017.

Mr Burnham told Sky News: “It does not have the ACM cladding which is now banned, but it does have a type of cladding which does cause concern.

“There will be many people living in buildings with this cladding today who will be very worried.

“The Prime Minister is visiting later and we will see if we now need to go further to remove the cladding and give these families peace of mind.

“The response from the community in Bolton has been fantastic. We want to pay tribute to everybody involved.”

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The fire after it had just started on the top floors (Rafaela Nunes/PA)

Mayor of Salford City Council, Paul Dennett, said the authority was aware of “high pressure laminate” cladding that was on The Cube student flats involved in a blaze in Bolton.

He said he would be asking the Government for more money to remove flammable cladding from buildings to prevent future incidents.

The Mayor added: “We’re asking for more money really deal with an industrial crisis around cladding. There is a lot of work to be done.”

Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Mr Burnham set up the Greater Manchester High Rise Task Force to provide fire safety reassurance, building by building, in the region.

As part of the task force’s work, The Cube building was inspected in 2017 and a letter was sent requiring the fire risk assessment to be updated to consider the risk of internal and external fire spread.

Some insufficiencies were identified at the building in relation to compartmentation and it is understood action was then taken by the building owners.

Mr Johnson did not take questions from the media as he visited the University of Bolton, where he hailed the “incredible response” by the local community who brought in donations of food, clothes and other essentials for the affected students.

He also made a brief visit to the scene of the blaze, where he witnessed the extensive damage and the ongoing work of firefighters who are expected to remain there for several days.

Greater Manchester Deputy Mayor for Policing, Crime, Criminal Justice and Fire Beverley Hughes said some of the firefighters involved in battling the blaze in Bolton on Friday had been through Grenfell-inspired training one day before.

She said: “The learning from Grenfell has paid dividends. Some of the firefighters had training the day before, particularly around evacuation.”

Ms Hughes also praised the response from the emergency services and lauded two student ambassadors, known as Kate and Jade, who knocked on doors in The Cube to alert students to evacuate.

Witnesses said what appeared to be a small fire ripped through the upper part of the town centre six-storey building “within minutes” as it tore up and across.

Ace Love, 35, who described the fire as “crawl[ing] up the cladding like it was nothing”, told the PA news agency: “The fire kept getting more intense, climbing up and to the right because the wind was blowing so hard.”

Mobile phone video footage taken by one of the evacuated students showed firefighters tackling flames on the balcony of a flat on the fourth floor.

Paramedics treated two people at the scene for minor injuries, including one person rescued by fire crews from an aerial platform, after the blaze broke out at about 8.30pm on Friday.

On Saturday, Assistant Chief Fire Officer Dave Keelan, from Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, said crews worked hard through the night to extinguish the blaze with more than 20 fire engines attending at the height of the incident.

Speaking at the scene, he said: “I really want to praise the actions of my firefighters and officers last night.

“Their early intervention and quick decision-making that evacuated this building at pace early on in the incident has made a real difference to the outcome today.”

Pressure group Grenfell United said the fire in Bolton “brings back memories” of the Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed 72 lives in 2017, and called for Government action.

“Devastating to see images of such quick fire spread last night in #Bolton,” tweeted the group, which represents bereaved and survivors from the fire.

“It brings back memories of #Grenfell (and) we can’t believe that over 2.5 years later this is happening. Our hearts go out to all the students affected.”

The group said “answers and urgent action” are now needed from Downing Street and the Ministry of Housing.

A total of 220 students live at The Cube in Bradshawgate and everyone who was registered as residing at the building has been accounted for.

Professor George Holmes, vice chancellor of the University of Bolton, said: “We have been working through the night with the amazing emergency services who have been on the job here and I can’t say enough about how pleased we were with the response.”

Those affected were provided with overnight accommodation in nearby hotels and at a university halls of residence as Mr Holmes said the university would work with the student union to ensure students have somewhere to stay in the foreseeable future.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said it is important an investigation into the fire takes place.

She said: “Looking at those terrifying images of that fire in Bolton, I am in awe to our emergency services, the firefighters who bravely got that under control, and I’m so pleased that it seems nobody was hurt and that everybody has been rescued and got out alive.

“But it’s hugely concerning to see a blaze like that and it’s very important that an investigation takes place so we can understand what happened and learn the lessons for the future.”

PA

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