Gas supplies to the Ledbury Estate tower blocks have been turned off and residents will be moved, after tests found that historic “strengthening” work to make them fit to withstand a gas explosion may not have happened.
Residents in the four thirteen-storey towers by Old Kent Road were informed at 4pm today that UK Power Networks will be switching off supplies as soon as possible, and that they will all be due to move out of the blocks temporarily.
A letter sent yesterday to tower blocks residents said: “We had hoped to allow residents to remain in the Ledbury blocks while we carried out the work to fix the cracks, but this new information means we are now planning to temporarily decant the blocks over the coming weeks and months. We will talk to you all individually to discuss the possibilities available to you.
“We are in the process of purchasing a new build block in the vicinity of the Ledbury Estate and plan to reserve the 80 council properties at council rents for Ledbury Tower residents. We are also holding properties as they become empty in other parts of the borough for those affected.”
The decision follows surveys carried out by building firm Arup, who found that the blocks could be vulnerable to a gas explosion, due to potential flaws in their design present since they were built in 1968.
Arup were ordered by Southwark to carry out the tests after independent fire experts raised the issue with residents and the media that the towers would be vulnerable to “collapse” if a gas explosion occurred.
The council has today confirmed that “strengthening works” – carried out on estates under government order across the UK following the deadly Ronan Point tower block collapse in Newham in 1968 – may never have happened on the Ledbury.
Cllr Stephanie Cryan, cabinet member for housing, said: “At every stage of this investigation, we have put residents’ safety first, and acted on the best information available.
“We didn’t own the blocks when they were constructed at the end of the 1960s, but all the reports we found suggested the blocks were strengthened following the Ronan Point incident in 1968, to make them safe to include a gas supply.
“Arup’s structural investigations suggest this strengthening may not have occurred, and we have therefore turned off the gas, until further investigations can be done. We are doing all we can to provide residents with alternatives while the gas is turned off, and are working up a plan to permanently replace the gas with electric ovens, boilers etc. as part of the wider works, should that be necessary.”
A resident, who preferred not to be named, said council officers are onsite knocking on doors to inform all residents of the order for gas to be switched off.
“They are talking about sending us to Peckham Pulse for showers,” the resident said. “All our suspicions about our homes have come true. I’m still reeling from this. It’s a miracle no one has been killed. I don’t know how to feel.”
Cllr Cryan added: “We have also written to the Department of Communities and Local Government to inform them of this issue, as it may well have implications for other blocks around the country that were constructed in this way.”
Fears about the safety of the Ledbury blocks first arose after the Grenfell Tower disaster, when residents raised concerns that cracks in the walls of dozens of flats could enable a fire to spread easily.
Since July 19 the council has been offering to move tenants to new flats by placing them in Band One on the housing waiting list, and offering compensation of £5,800 per household.
Fire wardens remain on every second floor of the four towers, tasked with assisting with an evacuation should a fire occur.