Residents living on the Ledbury Estate – which it emerged could collapse from a gas explosion – presented a string of questions to housing bosses at a meeting this week.
Ledbury Action Group and Ledbury Estate Tenants’ and Residents’ Association presented Southwark’s housing chiefs with 54 questions at an overview and scrutiny committee on Monday, September 11.
Danielle Gregory and Glenn Holmes, who live on the Peckham estate, also spoke out at the meeting to raise concerns over missed appointments for installing immersion heaters, lack of privacy, and fears over their right to return to their homes.
They were met with reassurance from housing bosses, who said they would answer all of the residents’ questions, arrange a full, independent review of the estate’s repairs history, and formally confirm they would have the right to return.
Glenn Holmes, who lives in Peter Church House, told the committee: “I’m up to my fifth appointment [for an immersion heater to be installed] and that’s days off work. They [the contractors] are turning up for appointments, but sometimes they are going to the right number but the wrong block.”
Another resident said there was “no privacy” in the tenants’ hall when residents were being asked about their finances. “There are tenants being asked really personal questions about their earnings etc. and everyone else can hear and that can’t be right,” she said.
Director of housing services Gerri Scott reassured residents the council was “on this as hard as we can be”.
“It’s a big operation and there are external contractors involved,” she said.
“The missed appointments shouldn’t be happening. One of the things we are struggling with is getting access [to people’s flats to install the immersion heaters] but if people are being let down by contractors we need to resolve that.”
Cracks were discovered in residents’ flats on the estate after fire safety inspectors checked each block in the wake of the fatal Grenfell Tower blaze.
It was later revealed that the estate’s four tower blocks had been vulnerable to collapsing from a gas explosion since they were built almost five decades ago.
A report by structural surveyors Arup confirmed strengthening works – which should have been carried out countrywide on tower blocks after the Ronan Point collapse of 1968 – never took place on the Ledbury Estate.
It was also revealed that the Ledbury towers were never fit to carry gas pipes and residents’ gas supply was switched off on August 11.
Since then, the council has been working alongside contractors completely to remove all gas provision and make the blocks fully electric.
Cllr Stephanie Cryan, the council’s cabinet member for housing, told the committee that every resident would have to be rehoused.
“I think until we have a programme of work we won’t know how long residents need to be rehoused, but everyone will be offered band 1 housing and we are hoping once that work is done everyone will have the right to return,” she said.
Speaking after the meeting, committee vice chair Cllr Ben Johnson said: “This is a hugely distressing time for Ledbury residents and the scrutiny committee was united in its support for residents and in challenging the council to do better. However, there are still serious questions to answer.”
Speaking in the House of Commons last week, Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid said there were some “really big questions” for Southwark Council to answer over the Ledbury estate.
“The cracks that were discovered were large enough to put a human hand through or to put books in,” he said.
“Those cracks did not appear overnight. They had been there for some time – months, or even years.
“How can it be that the local authority was seemingly able to act only after the Grenfell tragedy.”
Speaking to the News, Southwark Council deputy leader and cabinet member for housing Stephanie Cryan said the cracks were reported over time and were dealt with individually.
She also apologised to Ledbury residents for the disruption caused.
“We have been in regular contact with the Department for Communities and Local Government to update them on developments at the Ledbury,” she said.
“Despite this, there does appear to be some confusion regarding the situation and the cracks are being linked to the gas risk – two completely separate issues.
“The gas issue is a historic issue dating back to before the buildings were transferred to our ownership that had never been raised with the council to my knowledge, prior to a public meeting after Grenfell.
“The cracks had been reported over time but made up a very small proportion of overall repairs in the towers and were dealt with individually.
“An independent review will be carried out into the historic repairs information.
“We know the situation on the estate has been very difficult for residents and we are doing all we can to improve the immediate situation with the loss of gas, as well as develop a longer term solution.
“I’m very sorry for the disruption and worry caused.”