Residents of four tower blocks in a south London council estate have had their gas switched off and will be asked to move out temporarily after an investigation by consulting engineer Arup revealed that their homes may not be able to withstand a gas explosion.
The flats in the Ledbury Estate, Peckham, had their gas cut off yesterday (10 August). Southwark council, the owner of the estate, said it was aware that the move was inconvenient, but that it was not willing to take any risks.
The council had previously said it expected residents to remain in their homes while strengthening work was carried out on the blocks.
I cannot describe my level of anger at Southwark council. Not only is the gas supply illegal, but the structure of the building is potentially unsafe. It’s a miracle no one was killed over this time– Ledbury Estate resident
In the meantime, they would be offered hotplates so they could prepare meals and could use shower facilities at any of Southwark’s leisure centres. Those measure will still go ahead, but it has now been decided to decant residents "over the coming weeks and months" while works are carried out.
The estate consists of four 13-storey towers. Arup was called in to investigate the propagation of cracks in them after residents expressed fears that they were so large that a fire could spread through them, potentially repeating the Grenfell tragedy.
High-rise housing in the UK was strengthened following the partial collapse of the Ronan Point block in the east London borough of Newham in 1968 – the year that the Ledbury estate was completed. In that incident, four people died after a gas explosion blew out some supporting walls. Ronan Point and Ledbury were both built using what was then regarded as a modern method of construction: large concrete panels bolted to a frame.
The tower blocks were completed in 1968 (GLA)
Stephanie Cryan, deputy leader of Southwark council, said despite records suggesting the blocks were strengthened following Ronan Point, this may not have happened. She said: "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 and boilers as part of the wider works, should that be necessary."
One resident told the Guardian newspaper: "I cannot describe my level of anger at Southwark council. Not only is the gas supply illegal, but the structure of the building is potentially unsafe. It’s a miracle no one was killed over this time."
Tenants who are considering leaving have been offered £5,800 in compensation for "stress and disruption" and have been promised a place at the front of the queue for alternative accommodation.
Top image: The tower block were completed in 1968 (GLA)