Hundreds of Old Kent Road residents fear being evacuated from their tower blocks, after long-standing fire-safety flaws were discovered in their homes.
The four thirteen-storey blocks of the Ledbury Estate have, since last week, been identified as dangerous by London Fire Brigade inspectors, due to the gaping cracks in the rooms of many residents’ flats.
It is understood that a sweep of inspections across the blocks, by the Brigade and the council, was prompted by one resident (wishing to remain anonymous) who raised fears about alarming cracks in their walls.
Another resident who spoke to the News outside Bromyard House, in Commercial Way, said that cracks had been present in their flat “since I moved in about 30 odd years ago” and that complaints about them had been “ignored”.
Word has spread throughout the blocks that the cracks in the walls have “compromised” the “compartmentation” fire-safety features of the blocks, as smoke and oxygen can leak into different rooms and between flats.
Fire safety wardens have been deployed on every second floor of the four towers since Friday June 30, and will remain there 24/7 as a “temporary measure”.
They have been instructed to assist with evacuating the blocks in the event of a fire. This is instead of the Fire Brigade’s usual advice to residents – to “stay put” inside their flats during a fire – and allow compartmentation of the flats to contain a blaze while fire fighters go to work.
The “stay put” advice was given to residents during the Lakanal House fire of 2009 and the Grenfell fire, and is common place in tall buildings with compartmentation features.
Since Monday, structural surveys have also been undertaken into the blocks by construction company ARUP. The council said on Tuesday that the results of these surveys would be ready “in the next few days”, and would be published at the latest by July 11, for the estate’s AGM.
A small group of Bromyard House residents also told the News there were rumours that the tower had subsidence, and visibly “leans” to one side.
The estate’s Ledbury Hall was taken over by the council and fire safety wardens on June 30. Stocks of blankets, food and water are being stored in the hall in case of an evacuation, and for use by the many fire safety wardens who have been stationed on the estate until further notice.
Other residents have been seen commenting on social media that the council “has not been communicating with them”. But the council has responded saying its head of housing, Gerri Scott, has written four letters to all tenants and leaseholders since Friday.
A Southwark Council spokesperson said: “There have been reports of cracks over the years on the Ledbury Estate. We have always instructed our experts to take a view on them and carry out repairs as required – and most recently, a detailed survey by ARUP has been commissioned and is currently on site. We continually review our fire risk assessments for all our homes.
“We take fire safety extremely seriously and clearly, since the tragic fire at Grenfell, we have been reviewing everything in our high rise dwellings, and looking afresh at our fire safety strategy, including commissioning an independent fire safety review. At Ledbury Towers we have put in place some immediate fire safety measures, in conjunction with London Fire Brigade, such as new fire wardens available 24 hours a day, renewed inspections and immediate works if required. Residents can be reassured that we are confident they are safe to remain in their homes.”
The chair of the Ledbury Estate tenants’ and residents’ association, Jeanette Mason, said that in the 30 or more years that cracks had been present in the estate’s flats, “no one had brought it to [her] attention”.
“We didn’t know anything about this until we were informed last Monday. People don’t come to the meetings, it’s not our fault,” she said.
The News also asked the council if the blocks, which are located within the Old Kent Road regeneration “Opportunity Area” may need to be demolished if the ongoing structural surveys recommend it. The council replied saying “there is no suggestion from anyone that we are looking at demolition”.