Southwark council ‘confident’ on tower block safety

Southwark council ‘confident’ on tower block safety

THE LONDON council responded to expert opinions on gas explosion concerns in certain blocks by noting it was ‘confident’ the blocks will not need to be demolished.

Southwark News reported on the views concerning the blocks on the Ledbury Estate in Peckham, which saw recent inspections discover ‘urgent fire safety risks in dozens of flats that had been present, in some cases, for up to 30 years’. Type four fire risk assessments were carried out on the site by council fire safety officers, with these described as ‘thorough and intrusive’.

At the same time, the council hired building surveyors Arup to ‘assess the risks posed by large cracks in residents’ walls’, and is in the process of repairing these and testing the buildings’ structural integrity and ‘ability to withstand gas explosions’. The findings of the tests will ‘determine what strengthening works or refurbishments may need doing’, with council cabinet member for housing, Stephanie Cryan, stating that the findings would be shared with residents ‘as soon as possible’.

She added that ‘a full structural survey is being carried out by Arup and a full and comprehensive fire risk assessment of the buildings is being carried out by the fire safety team to determine the permanent fix to deal with the fire safety compartmentation issues’. The main concern of residents was that ‘if the tests find that the tower blocks should be demolished and rebuilt’, and assurances that the new blocks that might replace the old would be ‘exclusively for tenants’.

The survey came after independent surveyors Arnold Tarling and Sam Webb said the towers could collapse in the event of such an explosion, with Mr Webb having written a report commissioned by a government inquiry into a gas explosion in 1968 in Newham, where the Ronan Point tower block partially collapsed and killed four people.

Mr Webb’s view, in a BBC interview, was that the Ledbury towers were ‘built to a similar design’ to Ronan Point, and needed strengthening to ‘resist partial collapse’, adding that an explosion ‘could blow out the load-bearing end flank walls of that block of flats […] you will have a building collapse. If you have people in the kitchens and living rooms of those flats, they will be killed’.

Mr Tarling told Southwark News about a ‘catalogue of other fire risks’ at the Ledbury site, and stated that the council should ‘immediately turn off the gas supply to these blocks, until they know that the building can withstand a gas explosion’. A council spokeswoman stated that ‘whilst we are prepared for all eventualities, none of the experts we are talking to have mentioned demolition, and we remain confident that all fire safety risks can be dealt with while residents remain in the blocks’.

Some tenants were considering moving out after the council offered to rehouse them and give them £5,800 compensation, with those choosing to leave notified that they would be in the top band of the housing waiting list, so they would have ‘almost first choice when bidding for new flats’. Councillor Cryan added that the ‘home loss contribution’ was the council’s ‘agreed standard payment for any council resident in the borough to replace furnishings if they move’.