The Ledbury Estate’s tower blocks will be fully refurbished and not demolished, after plans for the estate’s future were approved by Southwark Council’s cabinet on Tuesday night.
As reported by the News in August 2017, the towers’ gas supply was turned off after it emerged that the buildings could be vulnerable to collapse if there was ever a gas explosion.
Shockingly, engineering work meant to strengthen the blocks, in the wake of the Ronan Point tower block collapse in Newham in 1968, may never have taken place – and Southwark Council did not have the paperwork to confirm either way. The Ledbury’s towers were built from 1968-70.
A new heating system was installed and extra fire safety put in place, but with long-term redevelopment needed to strengthen the tower blocks, residents were given the option of staying or leaving – with all fast-tracked onto the band one housing list.
On Tuesday evening, Southwark Council’s cabinet voted on recommended plans – drafted with residents’ backing – for refurbishing the four high rise towers, with the cost partly met by building new homes on land next door. At least half of these new homes will be council homes.
The complete refurbishment will include strengthening work, new lifts, windows, rooves and lighting.
Speaking to the News before Tuesday’s vote, a Ledbury Action Group spokesperson said: “Where many other Large Panel System owners around the UK are discovering similarly serious problems and simply opting for demolition, Southwark are instead taking a unique position by attempting a newly designed structural strengthening and fire-stopping programme to the Ledbury tower blocks.
“This unprecedented design solution will undoubtedly attract a great deal of attention, both from those in the industry, as well as other local authorities and the ministry of housing, communities and local government.
“We are all very keen to see how the first pilot tests pan out, as this will truly be a landmark moment, determining the future of many Large Panel System blocks around the country.
“All eyes are on Southwark now. It’s admirable that they’ve listened to the residents’ thoughts and wishes and are giving this a go.’
Cllr Stephanie Cryan, Cabinet Member for Housing, said: “We know it has been a difficult time for many people but I feel we are at a point where we can start moving forward and get this work done to fix the homes in the four tower blocks, and use this opportunity to build new, family homes on the estate to help meet costs and help local families living in overcrowded conditions.
“I want to extend my thanks to the residents in the tower blocks and the wider estate, members of the Resident Project Team and the Ledbury Tenants and Residents Association for their invaluable help and commitment to the future of the tower blocks and very much hope that we continue to work together as the works progress to ensure the right outcomes for the Ledbury community.”
This summer, Ledbury residents, leaseholders and those who have left but have the right to return had four main options put to them, including basic work to make the blocks safe, more extensive refurbishment with new homes built which would help fund the work, a mixture of some high-standard refurbishment and partial demolition with homes replaced, and full-scale demolition and replacement of all four blocks.
Reacting to the news, Tanya Murat, chair of Southwark Defend Council Housing said: “We welcome the Council’s announcement for full refurbishment of the towers, as there’s the ever present danger of social cleansing which normally happens when council blocks are demolished.
“But there must be a genuine right to return for council tenants, which means a lifetime secure tenancy on their existing council rents in homes at least as big as the ones they’ve moved out of.
“We were shocked to hear that Ledbury tenants were being offered a “council home” at Sylvan Grove, on rents that many could not afford.
“The only real solution to the housing crisis is the building of council homes on council land, not private housing for rich people.”
Lib Dem opposition leader Anood Al Samerai said: “The council has repeatedly acted as if it can ignore the residents of the Ledbury Estate.
“However, they have the right to be listened to and be fully involved in developing the plans that will shape their community in the years and decades ahead.”