Ledbury Estate works cost nearly £7m

Ledbury Estate works cost nearly £7m

SAFETY WORK on the towers in Southwark have cost nearly £7m, after major safety issues were identified earlier this year.

The buildings’ gas supplies were cut in August and certain residents evacuated as a consequence, with structural defects cited. The council had said it was ‘confident’ on the tower blocks’ safety, with 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 by council fire safety officers.

At the same time, the council hired 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 that ‘tests find that the tower blocks should be demolished and rebuilt’. While a few households moved to new accommodation, some were given immersion heaters and hotplates, but the replacement works, since completed, had been postponed to ‘mid-late October’.

Fire safety experts and structural surveyors Arnold Tarling and Sam Webb told Southwark Council installing the new heating system would ‘risk weakening the concrete blocks even further, and increase the chance of collapse’, having been first to highlight the dangers this year. Both ‘cast doubt’ on whether the blocks could withstand drilling needed to put hot water pipes through each flats’ floor and ceiling. A later report from them recommended the buildings should be demolished.

Recently, Arup detailed a ‘catalogue of structural weaknesses’ in the 14 storey blocks, with Inside Housing revealing the amount spent after a Freedom of Information Act request by a tenants’ organisation. So far, £6.8m has been spent since July, including £1.3m on fire marshals, £420,000 on installing temporary immersion heaters and £3.6m on installing a new district heating system.

Other costs included £293,000 on sealing cracks in the blocks; £276,000 on new fire alarm systems; £256,000 on compensation to tenants; £236,000 on staffing the tenants and residents’ hall on the estate; £134,000 on commissioning Arup to carry out a structural report; and over £200,000 on legal fees and a fresh fire risk assessment.

Stephanie Cryan, cabinet member for housing at Southwark Council, said: ‘We are dealing with an unprecedented situation and as such we had no expectations or budget in mind. What has been our first and foremost priority is the safety and comfort of those residents directly affected by the situation on the Ledbury Estate.

‘Making sure our homes, especially our high-rise blocks, are safe has to be our main concern and we will continue to both look at the best ways to achieve this and ask the government to consider financial support for councils who are facing similar circumstances.’

Cris Claridge, chair of the Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations, which filed the request, stated: ‘Of course residents’ safety has to be put before cost concerns. But every penny that is spent on fire safety is a penny redirected from other vital housing services, like repairs, maintenance and the building of new council homes. Unless central government can properly fund safety measures, it is ultimately tenants who will have to foot the bill.’

A spokesperson from the Ledbury Action Group, a campaign group set up by residents, called the costs ‘eye watering’, adding: ‘This money came from the council’s Housing Revenue Account, which has a knock on effect on the rest of the borough. If [the council] had maintained the buildings over the years then it wouldn’t have had to spend these huge sums now.’