Grenfell Tower fire: Combustible cladding found on university accommodation blocks

Combustible cladding has been found on university accommodation blocks as fears grow hundreds of thousands of people across the UK could be living in unsafe housing in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. 

A number of universities have identified aluminium composite cladding on their high-rise accommodation blocks, a material which is thought to have aided the “unprecedented” spread of the blaze in north Kensington that killed at least 80 people. 

Nottingham Trent, Bournemouth, Newcastle and Edinburgh Napier all identified blocks fitted with flammable panelling, and Essex University was also testing cladding on one of its halls of residence. 

It comes after Theresa May said at least 120 council-owned tower blocks across 37 local authorities have similar combustible cladding to that used on Grenfell Tower. 

The Prime Minister said widespread testing of samples had so far produced a 100 per cent failure rate and urged local authorities to “work on the assumption” samples would fail. 

Ms May has pledged a “major national investigation” into the use of combustible cladding on high-rise buildings after the Grenfell tragedy. 

The cladding on Grenfell Tower was a new addition to the building and had been fitted during a 2016 refurbishment.

Police said they had identified at least 60 companies involved in the refurbishment works and were seizing documents in relation to the criminal investigation into the fire. 

“We will identify and investigate any criminal offence and, of course, given the deaths of so many people we are considering manslaughter, as well as criminal offences and breaches of legislation and regulations,” Detective Chief Superintendent Fiona McCormack said.

“We are continuing to seize material on a daily basis and the number of companies and organisations that we know so far to have played a role in the refurbishment alone is over 60.”

Police said it could take months before the final count of those who died in the fire is established but authorities believe the vast majority of the victims came from just 23 flats in the 129-flat block. 

She said: “There are 23 flats that despite huge investigative efforts, we have been unable to trace anyone that lives there.

“At this stage we must presume that no-one in those flats survived, that includes anyone who lived there or was visiting them.”

A six-month-old baby was among the latest victims to be identified, found dead in her mother’s arms in the smoke-filled stairwell.

Westminster Coroner’s Court opened and adjourned inquests into seven Grenfell Tower victims on Wednesday, including baby Leena Belkadi and her eight-year-old sister Malak.

Edinburgh Napier University said it would be immediately removing some of the imitation wood panels fitted to Bainfield Halls after it was discovered they were the same as those used on Grenfell Tower. 

“A physical inspection identified that around a quarter of the exterior walls on one of our buildings – Bainfield Halls of residence – featured the same cladding reportedly used at Grenfell,” the university said in a statement. 

“Work has already begun to remove and replace the cladding as a precautionary measure. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service inspected the building on Tuesday and confirmed it is safe to continue to use the building as normal. Residents are not being evacuated.”

Students in three blocks at Nottingham Trent University’s Byron House halls were moved while tests are carried out on the buildings’ Reynobond ACM panelling. 

A spokesperson stressed the students had not been evacuated but instead had been re-accommodated as a “precautionary measure”. 

“The safety of our staff and students is of paramount importance. As such, the University and UPP – which owns and manages the Byron House accommodation – initiated an immediate review into the type of materials used on this building,” the university and UPP said in a joint statement. 

 “This review showed that three of the building’s seven blocks were clad using Reynobond ACM. As a precautionary measure UPP and NTU re-accommodated a small number of remaining students in these blocks into alternative rooms while further tests were carried out to determine the exact version of this product.”

Concerns were growing for residents living in private accommodation after the Government stopped short of telling private landlords to carry out mandatory fire safety checks. 

A further 480 council-owned housing blocks are set to be tested but the number of tower blocks that could be affected in the private sector remains unknown. 

Testing was also being extended to buildings outside of the housing sector. NHS Improvement identified cladding on 36 hospitals that needed to undergo testing. The Care Quality Commission also advised more than 17,000 care homes, hospices and private hospitals to carry out fire safety checks.