Ledbury Estate towers 'should be demolished'

Ledbury Estate towers 'should be demolished'

THE BUILDINGS were recently partially evacuated due to fears of a collapse in the event of a gas explosion.

Southwark News reported that the blocks in the borough will be given a new heating system next month 'despite experts' advice that they should be demolished', after an investigation in the past few months found that they could collapse in the event of a gas explosion. The buildings' gas supplies were cut last month and certain residents evacuated as a consequence, with structural defects cited by structural surveyors.

The council recently said it was ‘confident’ on the tower blocks’ safety, with the inspections discovering ‘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 on the site by council fire safety officers.

At the same time, the council hired building surveyors Arup to ‘assess the risks posed by large cracks in residents’ walls’, repairing these and testing the buildings’ structural integrity and ‘ability to withstand gas explosions’. The findings of the tests were said at the time to be set to ‘determine what strengthening works or refurbishments may need doing’.

The survey and fire risk assessment aimed to ‘determine the permanent fix to deal with the fire safety compartmentation issues’, with the main concern of residents that ‘if the tests find that the tower blocks should be demolished and rebuilt’. While a few households have moved to new accommodation, some have been given immersion heaters and hotplates, but the replacement works have already been postponed to 'mid-late October'.

Local residents questioned if the works would 'still go ahead', with warnings that some may become ill as the weather gets colder. Fire safety experts and structural surveyors Arnold Tarling and Sam Webb told Southwark Council that installing the new heating system would 'risk weakening the concrete blocks even further, and increase the chance of collapse', having been the first to 'highlight the dangers' this year.

Both men met with council leader Peter John, and 'cast doubt' on whether the blocks could withstand drilling needed to put hot water pipes through each flats' floor and ceiling. A local residents' group also noted that should the buildings eventually be demolished, the council 'must not go back' on its earlier pledge to make sure that any new builds would be social housing.

Mr Tarling commented: 'The towers [built between 1968-70] are at the end of their 60-year lifespan. But as it reaches its lifespan the concrete will keep expanding and keep weakening and that will eventually cause the concrete panels to be pushed out. If there’s a fire the concrete would expand even more rapidly and the building could collapse.

'The council’s actions suggest they are going to spend a lot of money on heating and fire safety. As far as we are concerned, it’s a waste of money, because they will still have a property with limited years left.'

Mr John added: 'The council has commissioned leading engineers Arup to assess the blocks, and will explore all the evidence, both from Sam Webb and colleagues before making a long-term decision. [If] we have no choice to demolish them because of a risk to our residents, then we will of course look at every available option to maintain council housing at the current levels on this site.

'However, as a local authority with limited borrowing and spending power… we are extremely unlikely to be in a position to demolish and rebuild [the Ledbury] without some private sector cross-subsidy. This is a simple reality of public sector housing funding at the moment, although we would always explore all options.'