Ledbury Towers require strengthening works

Ledbury Towers require strengthening works

BUILDING SURVEYORS Arup have detailed a ‘catalogue of structural weaknesses’ in the 14 storey blocks in Southwark.

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.

Now, Southwark News has reported on Arup’s final findings, which state that strengthening works ‘must be carried out’ or the towers could become vulnerable to ‘exceptionally strong winds’. It added that ‘to provide the buildings with sufficient resistance against disproportionate collapse, to meet current codified recommendations and best practice, structural strengthening measures are required’.

This report also recommended concrete panels in external and inner walls ‘need reinforcing with steel’, while existing steel wall ties need replacing, and a failure to undertake any of this in the ‘long term’ could leave the buildings ‘unable to support the weight of concrete walls or floor panels on levels above’. Essentially, the buildings would be ‘vulnerable to collapse’ should ‘exceptionally strong winds’, a vehicle impact or fire occurred.

Arup also recommended that ‘intrusive’ strengthening works on all four towers ‘will require local removal and reinstatement of plaster finishes, floor finishes and floor screeds, heating pipes, radiators, [and] sanitary ware including baths and kitchens’. The council faces a choice between paying for ‘extensive’ structural works or demolishing and rebuilding the towers, with a decision to be made at a future meeting. All residents have been given high priority to bid for new homes.

Councillor Stephanie Cryan, cabinet member for housing, said the council ‘had taken’ Arup’s recommendation of preventing residents from using bottled gas and oxygen cylinders: ‘We have been reminding residents not to use these in weekly newsletters, and strengthening needs to happen in order to mitigate the risk of high winds, for example.

‘We need to consider all these other factors in our options for, and risk assessments of, the building and that is what we will be doing with the help of the independent consultant we plan to appoint in the very near future. The next steps will be to appoint an independent consultant to look at the possibilities for the future of this estate. We hope that the resident project team will be involved in this appointment as well as helping to steer their work, before coming back to residents with options.

‘Whatever those options are [to strengthen or demolish the blocks], we know that residents will have to move out, either temporarily or permanently. I know this will be hugely disruptive for every family who needs to move, I apologise for that disruption, and I thank everyone for their patience. I want to reassure residents that we will do our utmost to make the process as smooth as possible and with as much support as we can offer.’