Ledbury Estate tower blocks could have collapsed 'killing lots of people', housing expert says

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Four tower blocks on a south London estate being evacuated over safety fears could have collapsed “killing lots of people”, a housing expert has said.

Veteran housing consultant Tony Bird said the construction systems used at the Ledbury Estate, near Old Kent Road, mean if one concrete panel blew out, large parts of the building would collapse.

He said if a fire started in the blocks, flames and toxic fumes would shoot right through the towers, owing to a litany of gaping holes and cracks.

Residents living in 224 homes in the thirteen-storey tower blocks in Peckham have been told they must move out in the coming weeks after structural engineers found they were potentially unsafe during investigations carried out in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Safety fears: Ledbury Towers, near Old Kent Road in south London (PA)

Peterchurch, Bromyard, Skenfirth and Sarnsfield towers all had their gas supplies shut off on Thursday and residents are facing the prospect of temporary accommodation.

Southwark Council said it “is not willing to take any risks” after an investigation revealed the buildings could be unsafe.

It has told residents they can use the shower facilities at local leisure centres if they provide proof of address and is providing them with hotplates so they can cook meals.

Independent consultant Mr Bird, 68, said: “Those buildings should never have had gas. The great danger of this type of construction is if one of the panels gives way it could bring down the whole side of the building.

“That would kill lots of people.”

The blocks use large panel construction systems similar to those in the Ronan Point tower, which infamously collapsed after a gas explosion in 1968.

An original gas pipe inside a flat in Bromyard House, on the Ledbury estate in south London (PA)

Mr Bird has worked closely with chartered surveyor Arnold Tarling in looking at the details of Ledbury Estate as well as consulting with the retired leading architect Sam Webb.

Fire safety expert Mr Webb has surveyed hundreds of tower blocks in Britain over the years, finding many that failed fire standards.

Ledbury Estate is one of several in London built using the large panel system and though some have been demolished others remain standing.

The joints holding the buildings together move, leading to holes and cracks, which could potentially lead to “progressive collapse” Mr Bird added.

A resident of Bromyard House, on the Ledbury estate in south London, shows the extent of structural damage to her flat (PA)

This happens when a large or total collapse happens because of either a failure of or damage to smaller parts of the structure.

It was thought they had been strengthened decades ago following the Ronan Point disaster, but new inquiries by structural engineers Arup showed that strengthening may not have happened.

Councillor Stephanie Cryan, Southwark’s deputy leader and cabinet member for housing, said: “At every stage of this investigation, we have put residents’ safety first, and acted on the best information available. 

“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.

“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, boilers etc as part of the wider works, should that be necessary.

“We have also written to the Department of Communities and Local Government to inform them of this issue, as it may well have implications for other blocks around the country that were constructed in this way.”

The authority said there are no plans to evacuate residents immediately or over the coming week.

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