Ledbury blocks could be bulldozed after engineers find tower blocks structural problems are worse than previously thought

Katherine Johnston (06 November, 2019) Housing

Current refurbishment estimate of £8 million per block is expected to spiral

17832The Ledbury Estate, off Old Kent Road

A year after Ledbury residents and Southwark Council agreed a refurbishment was the best course ahead, the four tower blocks on the Old Kent Road may have to be demolished after all.

Engineering firm Arup’s latest invasive survey has cast doubt over the practical and financial viability of theoretically agreed plans between residents and Southwark Council after uncovering the extent of their structural problems.

In 2018, an agreement was reached to refurbish the estate completely with new heating, rather than fully demolish, based on initial investigations.

New homes were to be built on the site to help cover the anticipated £32 million cost and all displaced residents were fast-tracked onto the band one housing list.

The Ledbury Action Group’s Dannielle Gregory told the News that the latest developments created yet more uncertainty, but that their focus was now on making sure that if the towers did come down the future estate was designed in the best way possible.

She said the process had been “back to front” and that residents were still digesting the “magnitude” of the report’s contents.

“This week Southwark Council is celebrating a century of council housing,” she said. “If it has to be demolished, then we want it to be rebuilt as 100 per cent council housing.

“With all the noises from the council about the design of their new homes and how they’re being built with residents’ input, our focus for the future is to make the Ledbury a test case for this commitment.

“So far they have committed to nothing apart from no loss of council housing – which isn’t very ambitious.

“We are not going to accept new homes being built for private sale on this estate. Speaking on behalf of the Ledbury Action Group, we will do whatever it takes to stop that from happening.”

Many residents moved out elsewhere in the borough are keen to return, but the timescale for when this could happen is looking ever-longer.

Arup’s report, received by the council at the end of October, is based on intensive investigations into the structure of Broomyard House. It recommends:

– A new steel frame for the block from floors eight to thirteen, held together by a new structure on the roof. This would involve beams added into flats, which makes rooms smaller

– Floor strengthening on each floor; thus reducing ceiling heights

– Partition walls, that are not load bearing, replaced

– Stair and lift tower demolished and replaced

The current estimate of an £8 million refurbishment, per block, is expected to spiral as a result and now Southwark and the Ledbury community will effectively have to start the consultation process all over again.

Councillor Kieron Williams, Southwark Council cabinet member for housing, said: “Last year residents chose to have the four tower blocks on the estate refurbished based on the information we all had at the time.  Since then, further investigatory works by Arup have completed and it’s clear that much more extensive works are required to give the towers a fifty-year life.

“We have shared all the details with residents and have agreed to look again with them at what the best option now is.

“We will be working out the cost of the new works and how they will affect the building – for example, some of the rooms may need to be reduced in size as part of the work needed to extend the life of the towers, which is a big consideration.

“We want residents to have the chance to see the full picture and take a decision based on that.

“Whichever options residents choose, we have agreed some key starting principles including that there will be no loss of council homes and that all tenants and leaseholders living in the towers will continue to have a home on the estate.”

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