Council ‘confident’ fire-risk hit Ledbury Estate won’t need to be demolished, as experts raise gas explosion fears

News Desk (27 July, 2017) Housing Emergency services

Worried residents wishing to leave the towers have also been offered £5,800 compensation

17832The Ledbury Estate, off Old Kent Road

Southwark Council has said it is “confident” the Ledbury Estate tower blocks in Peckham will not need to be demolished, despite experts’ opinions they may not be safe.

Fears have escalated about the four thirteen-storey blocks since inspections discovered urgent fire safety risks in dozens of flats that had been present, in some cases, for up to 30 years.

Building surveyors Arup were appointed by Southwark to assess the risks posed by large cracks in residents’ walls, which the council is in the process of repairing.

But Southwark will also test the structural integrity of the blocks and assess their ability to withstand gas explosions, after two independent surveyors, Arnold Tarling and Sam Webb, suggested the towers would “collapse” in the event of a gas explosion.

Mr Webb authored a report commissioned for a government inquiry into the Ronan Point gas explosion in 1968, which caused the tower block in Newham to partially collapse, killing four. He said the Ledbury towers were built to a similar design to Ronan Point, and required strengthening to resist partial collapse if a gas explosion occurred.

In a BBC news bulletin which aired on Monday, Mr Webb said: “[A gas explosion] could blow out the load-bearing end flank walls of that block of flats [on the Ledbury]. You will have a building collapse. If you have people in the kitchens and living rooms of those flats, they will be killed.”

Images provided by Ledbury Estate residents, who complained that cracks in their walls were a serious fire risk

Mr Tarling, who previously told the News of a catalogue of other fire risks at the Ledbury, agreed the council should “immediately turn off the gas supply to these blocks, until they know that the building can withstand a gas explosion”.

The gas-safety concerns were raised after the council had instructed its fire-safety officers to carry out “thorough and intrusive” level-four fire-safety assessments on Ledbury flats, and while structural survey were being carried out by Arup.

The results of these tests will determine what strengthening works or refurbishments may need doing. But neither Southwark nor Arup were able to answer the News’ query as to when the results of these tests would be made available to residents. The council’s cabinet member for housing, Stephanie Cryan, suggested it would be “as soon as possible”.

“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,” Cllr Cryan said.

Worried residents have raised questions with senior councillors, including Cllr Cryan and ward councillor Richard Livingstone, what the outcome might be if the tests find that the tower blocks should be demolished and rebuilt.

It also led residents to ask for assurances that, should the blocks be demolished, new tower blocks that take their place would be rebuilt “exclusively for tenants” rather than for private sale.

Cllr Livingstone responded on Monday by tweeting: “Yes. Can we now dispense with the silly conspiracies”. Cllr Mark Williams, cabinet member for regeneration and new homes, was also invited by the News to give this assurance, but no reply was received.

A Southwark Council spokeswoman responded on Tuesday: “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.”

Tenants want out after council offers £5,800 compensation

The News has learnt that many Ledbury tenants are considering leaving, after Southwark Council offered to rehouse them in alternative flats, with the promise of £5,800 compensation.

Residents were told by letter that those wishing to leave because they didn’t feel safe would be placed in Band One of the council’s housing waiting list – giving them almost first choice when bidding for new flats.

Cabinet member for housing, Stephanie Cryan, said the £5,800 “home loss contribution[s]” were the council’s “agreed standard payment for any council resident in the borough to replace furnishings if they move”. They will be made available after tenants have moved, via a cheque, or with credit being added to their tenancy account.

A resident told the News that even with the pay-outs, tenants might still have to save up to afford the costs of moving house before the payments are made. “It’s still very difficult for people to move, if they need money to physically move their furniture and belongings.”

An online petition on change.org entitled ‘Ledbury residents request the promised moving funds in advance, not reimbursed’ was created on Wednesday.

Details of the size of “stress and disruption” payments for tenants who choose to stay have yet to be confirmed. Residents have spoken anonymously to the News, saying they believe it could act as “an incentive” for tenants to leave the estate, making it easier to decant the blocks should they need to be demolished.

Cllr Cryan called the suggestions of demolition “simply false”. A council spokeswoman said: “Whilst we are prepared for all eventualities, none of the experts we are talking to have mentioned demolition.”

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