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Update on the Ledbury estate

06 October 2017


Following the tragic fire at Grenfell Towers a joint meeting was held with the council, London Fire Brigade (LFB) and residents on the Ledbury Estate to discuss fire safety issues and concerns. At that meeting, a resident reported large cracks in their flat in one of the four towers on the Ledbury estate, expressing concern that these cracks breached the compartmentation of the flat and therefore compromised fire safety. A commitment was given at the meeting to visit the property and to check if compartmentation had been breached.

It was subsequently discovered that the cracks did breach compartmentation and this raised concerns about the structural integrity of the block, and the other three tower blocks as well as the fire safety of the residents.

The tower blocks were built between 1968 and 1971 by the then Conservative controlled GLC and are large panel solution buildings which means that the panels of the blocks were constructed off site and fitted into place on site allowing faster and cheaper construction. The Ledbury towers are the only tower blocks of this construction in Southwark however there are many of similar construction across the UK.

The four tower blocks are of similar design to Ronan Point where a gas explosion in 1968 resulted in a partial collapse of the block which killed four people. Following this tragedy all subsequently built blocks (including those on the Ledbury) had to have additional core strengthening included in the designs to ensure they could withstand a gas explosion.

The estate was transferred to Southwark in the 1980s and all of the records we can find along with a BRE report commissioned in 1985 suggested that the required strengthening had taken place.

Fire safety

Once the cracks to the tower blocks were inspected a full fire risk assessment was carried out and LFB were informed of the findings. The LFB carried out their own assessment of the tower blocks on the same day which required the council to put in place a number of remedial measures, all of which were designed to ensure that residents could remain in their homes during the investigative surveys and the temporary repairs to seal the breaches in compartmentation. These included:

  • Walking Wardens (one per two floors) to walk the floors during twelve hour shifts (two shifts per day).
  • Each block has one person designated to call 999 to inform the Control Centre of any potential issues.
  • There is no longer a ‘stay put’ strategy applied to the estate - we are now working to a simultaneous evacuation strategy.
  • Inspections were carried out on all fire doors to ensure they are thirty minutes fire resistant and have appropriate self closing devices. If there was any doubt regarding the validity of a door it was replaced.
  • All flats have enhanced fire alarm systems installed meaning there is coverage to all rooms in the flats except the bathrooms.
  • All flats were checked to ensure their fire alarm is in full working order.An interim fire alarm system covering the common areas at every landing has been installed.
  • All of the accessible cracks have now been temporarily filled.

Gas safety

As part of the work to establish the structural integrity of the blocks the council commissioned Arup, the leading civil engineering firm, to carry out internal investigations to four flats and to inspect the structure externally. The council was at this point made aware that there were concerns about whether the blocks were able to withstand a gas explosion as the buildings are of a similar design to Ronan Point where a gas explosion in 1968 resulted in a partial collapse of the block which killed four people. Arup were asked to carry out testing to find out if the correct strengthening had been carried out.

Unfortunately, when this investigation was carried out, Arup informed the council that they had not found evidence of the strengthening they would have expected to find. We therefore immediately turned off the gas to the block to eliminate the possibility of a gas explosion, and informed the DCLG Permanent Secretary because of the potential wider implications for landlords of similarly constructed blocks across the country.

Support for residents

With the gas supply turned off we had to begin looking at how to provide heating, hot water and cooking facilities to the flats. We had hoped to be able to upgrade the electrical supply to the blocks but the UKPN load was not sufficient to allow a fully electrical solution.  UKPN have now given a commitment to upgrade the electrical infrastructure of the supply to the Ledbury and neighbouring properties and have now begun this work.

Hot plates were given out to all residents to provide an interim cooking facility and immersion heaters have been installed to all flats where requested. New electric cookers have also been ordered for all residents who want one (some already have an electric cooker). These have now been delivered and are being installed.

For the heating and hot water we are in the process of installing a temporary district heating system for each of the blocks provided by external boilers. All of the core drilling and pipework has now been completed, the boilers are now on site and we will be starting work inside the flats next week. By 26th October every flat should have heating and hot water. As each flat has the pipework connected they will be able to access heating and hot water. We are prioritising vulnerable residents first and those who are in temporary accommodation to allow them to return back to their homes.

We have made a one off compensation payment of £200 to every household and are also paying £20 a week to help cover any additional energy costs.

Every tenant in the tower blocks who wants to move has been allocated band one priority. We are also offering temporary hotel based accommodation for tenants and leaseholders who wish to move out until the district heating system is up and running. We have agreed to pay a home loss payment of £5800 to any one who does wish to move once they have signed a new tenancy agreement. All residents who decide to move will have the right to return to their flat.

We are also in the process of purchasing a block of 80 properties close to the Ledbury, which will be reserved solely for residents on the Ledbury, and speaking to other housing providers to see if there are other suitable blocks we can purchase as the housing crisis means that we simply do not have enough empty properties to immediately rehouse all 224 households.

We have also introduced a dedicated team to the estate, including a newly recruited Director of the Ledbury Estate, whose responsibility it is to lead the Ledbury team for at least six months. We have held several meetings with the residents, as well as the T&RA and the Ledbury Action Group, and this week met with leaseholders to address their questions and concerns. 

A respite centre is now up and running for residents, and which includes tea and coffee facilities, a TV and a microwave. We have also appointed an independent resident friend who will be setting up a resident project group and will be an advocate for the residents in the blocks.

Arup are still undertaking their review of the structural integrity of the four tower blocks and we hope to have their final report at the end of November. Once we have this report we will have a clear idea of how to move forward and what the extent of the works is.

We have made the decision not to recharge the costs of any works needed back to leaseholders and we will also be paying compensation for any redecoration works needed.

Going forward

There has been a lot of work carried out already, but there is still much more that needs to be done. Unfortunately, for many of the issues that still remain there are no quick fixes.

Despite advising the Government and the Department for Communities and Local Government about the gas safety issues and warning them of the potential issues for other landlords of similar blocks, both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government have used the Ledbury as a political football to try and cover up the failures of Kensington and Chelsea, protecting a dysfunctional Tory council and deflecting blame on both Southwark and Camden.

The problems on the Ledbury stem from when the blocks were built by the GLC nearly 50 years ago, and all the historical evidence we had suggested that the blocks had adequate strengthening. We took immediate action on the Ledbury as soon as we were told that the strengthening may not have taken place, but we know that the situation has led to worries and upheaval for residents, so we are committed to making sure we keep them informed, updated and involved over the coming months.


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