Evacuations over new fears for tower block homes

Councils and housing associations across the country on alert with blocks in south London at risk of collapse in a gas explosion.

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Hundreds of people have been told they will have to leave their homes on a high rise estate in London after post Grenfell safety checks found the blocks had been at risk of collapse for decades.

The discovery has huge implications for councils and housing associations across the country still coping with safety assessments and related works in the wake of the Grenfell disaster.

Residents of the Ledbury estate, Peckham, have been told the four 13-storey blocks were at risk of collapse in the event of a gas explosion.

Southwark council – which owns the blocks -has written to residents of the 242 flats saying they may be out for ‘weeks and months’ for emergency works.

Gas supplies to the blocks have already been cut off leaving most residents without cooking facilities, hot water and heating.

The council has committed to distributing electric hotplates and offered residents the option of showers at a local leisure centre.

Confirmation that the blocks are structurally unsafe means a new series of safety worries about high-rise blocks beyond flammable cladding.

Surveyors and fire safety experts says it is likely many other blocks around the country will have similar problems.

The Ledbury blocks were built between 1968 and 1970 using a method called large panel system that bolted giant concrete sections together on site.

This was the same technique was employed at Ronan Point, the tower block in east London which partly collapsed in 1968 following a gas explosion – killing four and injuring 17.

A subsequent investigation said buildings built using the same method must be reinforced, or else have no gas supply.

Southwark council, which took over the Ledbury blocks from the former Greater London Council, has said it believed they had been strengthened.

Worried residents raised concern about ‘big cracks’ on walls between flats on the estate, which, after Grenfell, they feared could allow a fire to spread.

While the cracks were being checked, parallel concerns were raised about the gas supply – identifying the structure as potentially unsafe.

Southwark had already employed engineers to examine the blocks, and yesterday (August 10) the council wrote to residents saying its belief that the buildings had been reinforced ‘may not be correct’.

A council spokeswoman said it was not yet known how long residents would need to leave for, as this depended on further surveys.

In a statement, Southwark’s deputy leader and cabinet member for housing, Stephanie Cryan, said: “We didn’t own the blocks when they were constructed at the end of the 1960s, but all the reports we found suggested the blocks were strengthened following the Ronan Point incident in 1968 to make them safe to include a gas supply.

“Structural investigations suggest this strengthening may not have occurred, and we have therefore turned off the gas until further investigations can be done.”

The council had written to the Department of Communities and Local Government about the issue, she added, “as it may well have implications for other blocks around the country that were constructed in this way”.

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