Ledbury Estate high rises will not be demolished

Ledbury Estate high rises will not be demolished

SOUTHWARK COUNCIL has confirmed that the buildings will be ‘fully refurbished and not demolished’, with strengthening work to be undertaken.

Earlier this week, it was revealed that blocks constructed with the large panel system (LPS) method have a ‘systemic structural flaw’ that means they are at risk of collapse. Fire and construction experts Sam Webb and Arnold Tarling urged the government to investigate the issue, because the defects identified would cover around 41,000 flats home to around 100,000 people.

The LPS method was used to build towers in the 1960s and 1970s, with cracks in some flats ‘wide enough to allow residents to slide their hands inbetween the walls’. This also leaves the towers ‘at risk of complete collapse in the event of a fire or gas explosion’, such as what happened at Ronan Point in the 1960s, with these defects discovered at the blocks in Leicester, Rugby, Portsmouth and two estates in London.

As a consequence, hundreds of council tenants and leaseholders are ‘in the process of being moved for their own safety’, with documents showing at least 575 such blocks still standing across the UK. This means that the hazards are ‘likely to be even more widespread’, with campaign and research group Tower Blocks UK calling for the government to set up a nationwide fire safety audit and inspect all UK LPS tower blocks.

In London, the four buildings on the Ledbury Estate – constructed in the LPC method - saw their gas supplies cut last August and certain residents evacuated as a consequence, with structural defects cited. Southwark council had said it was ‘confident’ on the tower blocks’ safety, but inspections discovered ‘urgent fire safety risks in dozens of flats that had been present, in some cases, for up to 30 years’, and type four ‘thorough and intrusive’ fire risk assessments were carried out.

A report from Mr Tarling and Mr Webb recommended the buildings be demolished, while structural experts Arup recommended extensive strengthening works. The council later adopted 18 fire safety and repairs recommendations after an independent review of its handling of the issues, while in Leicester, the council elected to demolish the 23 storey Goscote House due to fears for its ‘long-term structural integrity’.

Two blocks at Biart Place in Rugby were also recommended to be demolished, with residents to be rehoused ahead of any such decision. Independent housing researcher Hannah Brack gathered the evidence showing that 575 blocks were built using LPS methods, with several councils stating that they ‘no longer hold a complete record of building work’ at LPS blocks, so it ‘isn’t clear which towers have undergone repairs in an effort to strengthen them’.

Southwark News has now reported that the council’s cabinet approved plans to refurbish ‘and not demolish’ the towers, with the resident backed plans aiming to refurbish the four towers via costs ‘partly met’ by building new homes on land next door, half of which will be council homes. The refurbishment will consist of strengthening work, new lifts, windows, roofs and lighting.

A Ledbury Action Group spokesperson stated: ‘Where many other [LPS] owners around the UK are discovering similarly serious problems and simply opting for demolition, Southwark are instead taking a unique position by attempting a newly designed structural strengthening and fire-stopping programme to the Ledbury tower blocks.

‘This unprecedented design solution will undoubtedly attract a great deal of attention, both from those in the industry, as well as other local authorities and the ministry of housing, communities and local government. We are all very keen to see how the first pilot tests pan out, as this will truly be a landmark moment, determining the future of many Large Panel System blocks around the country.

‘All eyes are on Southwark now. It’s admirable that they’ve listened to the residents’ thoughts and wishes and are giving this a go.’

Stephanie Cryan, cabinet member for housing, added: ‘We know it has been a difficult time for many people but I feel we are at a point where we can start moving forward and get this work done to fix the homes in the four tower blocks, and use this opportunity to build new, family homes on the estate to help meet costs and help local families living in overcrowded conditions.

‘I want to extend my thanks to the residents in the tower blocks and the wider estate, members of the Resident Project Team and the Ledbury Tenants and Residents Association for their invaluable help and commitment to the future of the tower blocks and very much hope that we continue to work together as the works progress to ensure the right outcomes for the Ledbury community.’