Ledbury Estate residents fear estate-wide regeneration project in wake of Grenfell report

Katherine Johnston (31 May, 2018) Housing Regeneration

Documents appear to contradict council's commitment not to demolish low rise buildings

17832The Ledbury Estate, off Old Kent Road

Ledbury Estate residents fear their entire estate could be regenerated – and not just its four faulty tower blocks – after new documents were published by Southwark Council.

As reported by the News, for years tower block residents have raised fire safety concerns, in an echo of Grenfell Tower, due to the large ‘gaps and cracks’ within the building, built from 1968-70.

In August 2017, the News reported that 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 that work had taken place.

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.

Since then, out of the 224 tower block homes, 83 homes are now empty and 52 housing offers have been accepted to alternative sites. Thirty four are also leaseholder properties.

According to the Ledbury Action Group, for the last six months residents have discussed refurbishment options and the potential to demolish the four towers with Southwark Council, which could cost anywhere between £13.6 to £27.9 million to refurbish.

However, Southwark Council has now published its ‘Options Appraisal Brief’, dated February 2018, which the Ledbury Action Group claims only became publicly available the day after the elections and lists ‘full demolition of the estate’ as an option.

The Ledbury Action Group says it has rejected the brief, saying the council has no public consent on full demolition or regeneration.

Resident Danielle Gregory said: “The Tenants and Residents Association, who are the only representative body able to take decisions on behalf of the estate have been clear that they oppose the brief.

“For the past few weeks members of the Resident Project Board have been raising concerns about why the wider estate is suddenly included in the brief and some are feeling that the council are sweeping them along at a very fast pace with decisions that they’ve had no say in whatsoever.”

Their campaign has gained the support of signatories including Southwark Law Centre, Liberal Democrat councillor Maria Linforth-Hall and the Green’s Eleanor Margolies and Sian Berry, chair of the Housing Committee at the London Assembly, many of whom have backed the call for estate residents to be given a ballot on large-scale regeneration projects like those seen across the borough at the Aylesbury and Heygate.

Cllr Anood Al-Samerai, Leader of the Southwark Liberal Democrat council group told the News she also backed the residents, saying: “This has been a textbook example of top-down decision-making. Ledbury residents have been excluded from decisions about their homes.

“That has to change. The council’s first priority should be to ensure that residents live in housing that is safe.

“Any large and long-term plans for regeneration must come after that basic level of safety has been established.”

Eleanor Margolies, from Southwark Green Party said: “Any work to make the Ledbury towers safe will affect all residents – everyone needs to be involved in what happens to and next to their homes. Just before the election, councillors were reassuring residents that there were no plans to demolish low rise flats.

“But a council report written in February had already floated the idea of demolishing the whole estate – it just wasn’t published till the day after the election. Residents must be given full information about all the options – and genuine consultation.’

Southwark councillor Stephanie Cryan, Cabinet Member for Housing Management and Modernisation said: “We recognise there are a number of different views regarding the future of the Ledbury Estate, but we are working closely with the Ledbury Resident Project Group who have not asked us to call for a pause to the process.

“It is right and fair that we present residents with all the options in an open and transparent way so that they can work out with us to consider the future of the Ledbury estate.

“We have written several times to all Ledbury residents to reiterate that we are not considering demolishing the low rise blocks but that one of the options would be to build upwards to provide more housing.

“We have been very open with residents that the demolition and rebuild of the four towers would be extremely costly, and there is no obvious pot of money to fund that, and so we need to explore every option to raise funds in consultation with residents.

“To pause would only delay certainty for Ledbury residents, at what has been a very emotive and stressful time, and we are confident that the majority of residents are clear on what the options are, and that they have ample opportunity to feed into discussions and decision-making.”

The controversy over the Ledbury Estate comes after Dame Judith Hackitt’s post-Grenfell fire safety review Building a Safer Future – Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety was published on May 17, and described “deep flaws” in the current regulatory and planning system.

In particular, Dame Hackett highlighted the “lack of an audit trail as to whether essential safety work was carried out on the Ledbury Estate.”

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