Sixty high-rise buildings across England are covered in combustible cladding that failed urgent safety tests tests carried out after the Grenfell Tower disaster — in which at least 79 people died — raising the prospect of thousands of people being relocated from their homes.
According to the latest government figures released on Sunday evening, all of the cladding samples that have been sent in by councils so far have failed the tests.
The number of failed tests, in buildings located in 25 local authorities across the country — and the 100% failure rate — suggests that the scale of the fire danger is far higher than previously thought.
Hundreds of towers with cladding on their exterior have yet to be tested.
About 600 towers in England are estimated to have some kind of cladding on the exterior, and tests are urgently being done to determine how many are at risk of going up in flames.
"It is therefore very important for local authorities and housing associations to continue to submit such samples as a matter of urgency," Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, said in an update on Saturday.
Areas affected include the city of Manchester, Camden, Plymouth, Hounslow, Portsmouth, Barnet and Brent.
Separately, Portsmouth City Council said on Friday it would remove the cladding from two towers, Horatia House and Leamington House in Somerstown, as a precautionary measure.
Earlier this week, the chief executive of Plymouth Community Homes said it will be removing the cladding from the Mount Wise Tower complex after panels sent for testing were given the worst fire-safety rating.
"The system used at the Towers is not the same system reported to have been used at Grenfell Tower," John Clark, chief executive of Plymouth Community Homes, said in a statement. "However, in light of the new information and guidance we have received from Central Government, we will be removing the combustible elements of the cladding from the Mount Wise Towers as soon as possible."
Other urgent safety measures were being implemented, including the installation of sprinklers in each of the tower blocks, he added.
In all the buildings that fail tests, residents are being informed and further checks will be carried out as quickly as possible by the fire service to determine if the buildings are safe to stay in, the government said. If the buildings are deemed dangerous the buildings will be evacuated and the residents rehoused.
There was confusion on Thursday after Number 10 said it had been told there were 600 buildings with cladding similar to that of Grenfell. Officials later clarified that there were 600 high-rises with cladding of any kind - and that the number with cladding similar to Grenfell is not yet known.
Theresa May told the House of Commons on Thursday that all local authorities with tall residential buildings were ordered to send samples of cladding on the outside of buildings to the Department of Communities and Local Government for testing.
"The House should of course be careful in speculating on what caused this fire but as a precaution the government has arranged to test cladding in all relevant tower blocks," May told the Commons.
"Shortly before I came to this chamber I was informed that a number of these tests have come back as combustible. The relevant local authorities and fire authorities have been informed and as I speak they are taking all possible steps to ensure the buildings are safe and to inform affected residents.
"Landlords have a legal obligation to provide safe buildings. And if they cannot do that, we expect alternative accommodation to be provided. We cannot and will not expect people to live in unsafe homes."
The cladding on Grenfell Tower, which was made from aluminium and polyethylene, is thought to have contributed to the swift spread of the blaze by fire.
One tower that does have the same kind of cladding, as reported by the BBC, is Rivers Apartments in Tottenham, a block of 100 flats in the Cannon Road development which was completed two years ago. The block is entirely made up of shared ownership homes, meaning they count towards a local authority's affordable housing quota. It is not known whether this is one of the three towers Downing Street said had been identified.
This 22-storey block has the same cladding – Raynobond ACM PE – as was used on Grenfell Tower. Joe Molloson, from housing association Newlon, which manages the site, told BuzzFeed News: "The fire brigade is carrying out a full audit which is ongoing. If the recommendation was that the cladding needed to come off then that's what we would do.
"We believe that the building is safe at the moment and that people will continue to be able to live there. If that was to change and we had to move people then we would do that."
He added that while Grenfell, an early 1970s tower block, was retrofitted to have cladding placed around its original structure, Rivers Apartment is a modern building that was designed to have the cladding in the first place, lessening the fire risk.
The Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, who has called for criminal charges against those responsible for the Grenfell blaze, will meet the CEO of Newlon, Mike Hinch, on Thursday afternoon to ask who signed off on the cladding and demand that is is removed immediately.
A spokesperson for Lammy said: "David is aware of the cladding at Rivers Apartments and will be speaking to the chief executive of the housing association at 2pm and will be demanding answers about whether these reports are true and if so will demand urgent action to replace this cladding.
"He will be requesting that the chief executive speaks to residents at a public meeting that David is holding in Tottenham on Monday."
The Camden New Journal reported that Camden council has said that it will remove exterior cladding panels from five tower blocks on the Chalcot estate in Chalk Farm, after laboratory tests found it was made from the same ACM PE material as used at Grenfell.
The council said it was considering legal action against Harley Facades, the successor company to the one which installed the cladding at Grenfell.
Councillor Georgia Gould, leader of the council said: "The new results from the laboratory show that the outer cladding panels themselves are made up of aluminium panels with a polyethylene core.
"Therefore the panels that were fitted were not to the standard that we had commissioned. In light of this, we will be informing the contractor that we will be taking urgent legal advice."
Ray Bailey, managing director at Harley Facades said in a statement that the work carried out met the contractual specifications the company was given.
Councils across the country wrote to residents living in towers last week to reassure them – but May urged any social or private landlord who has not had their building checked to do so urgently. The DCLG has capacity to quickly test up to 100 buildings a day, she said.
Also on Wednesday, the prime minister gave a lengthy update on the operation to support victims of the tragedy and the forthcoming public inquiry, and said that the an update is expected from the police and fire service on the criminal investigation in the next 48 hours.
And she said that while the inquiry may take some time to return its findings, it should publish something sooner rather than later. "It’s also clear that we cannot wait for ages for the lesson from this inquiry so I expect the chair will want to produce an interim report as soon as possible," she said.
The families will have legal representation at the inquiry, paid for by the government.
May repeated her apology from earlier this week, in which she admitted that the government's response in the immediate aftermath of the fire was not good enough.
She said more than £700,000 had been paid out to survivors and those affected by the fire and stressed that this money had been paid as a non-repayable grant and wouldn't affect anyone's means-tested benefit claims.
She reiterated that the government would not use the incident as a way to carry out immigration tests on residents or people who assist with the investigation. Many Grenfell residents are thought to have been immigrants.
May confirmed that 151 homes were destroyed in the fire, with many more damaged or affected in some way, and that all those displaced would be rehoused in three weeks. Already 68 homes have been acquired for Grenfell survivors, in a standalone block in a high-end £2 billion development in Kensington.
May stressed that except for those survivors who have expressed a wish to leave the area, everyone would be offered a home in the local area. The local council had previously warned that this might not be possible. All residents, she said, would be offered homes on the same terms as their previous home.
Speaking more generally, May spoke of how the political class needed to learn profound lessons from the disaster.
"As we move forward we must also recognise that for too long in our country, under governments of both colours, we simply haven’t given enough attention to social housing and this itself is a symptom of an even more fundamental issue," she said.
"It shouldn’t take a disaster of this kind for us to remember that there are people in Britain today who are living lives that are so far removed from those that many here in Westminster enjoy.
"So long [after] the TV cameras have gone and the world has moved on, let the lesson of this awful tragedy be that we resolve never to forget these people and gear our thinking into improving their lives and bringing them into the political process."
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the incident was "both a tragedy and an outrage".
"Every single one of those deaths could and should have been avoided," he said. The Grenfell Tower residents raised concerns about the lack of fire safety in the block."
And he warned the government not to exclude the voices of the victims and the wider community from the public inquiry process.
He said: "From Hillsborough to the child sex abuse scandal to Grenfell Tower, the pattern is the consistent: Working-class people’s voices are ignored and their concerns are dismissed by those in power.
"The Grenfell residents and the north Kensington community deserve answers and thousands and thousands of people in tower blocks around the country need urgent reassurance."