Blocks “have reached end of their economic lives”, report says

Ledbury Estate

Independent experts investigating cracks and gaps in tower blocks on the Ledbury housing estate in south London have said the 1960s development should be demolished.

Architect Sam Webb, building surveyor Arnold Tarling and independent housing consultant Tony Bird went into the Peckham estate, which was built using large panel technology, after being approached by a number of tenants concerned about the fire risk to their properties in the wake of the Grenfell fire last June.

Bird told Building: “There has never been a successful refurbishment of large panel buildings. It’s a myth that it can be done. They [Ledbury] should be torn down.”

Every panel would have to be removed to see if their supporting bolts were intact, Bird said. He claimed that 80% of bolts in large panel system tower blocks “didn’t fit”.

The trio’s report said the buildings had reached the end of their economic lives and what to do with large panel buildings in general requires a “national solution by the government…instead of leaving councils, who lack the technical expertise or funds, to deal with these matters on their own”.

Southwark council introduced a range of measures last year following a structural report by Arup, including cutting off gas supplies and introducing patrolling fire wardens.

In a statement, Stephanie Cryan, the council’s cabinet member for housing, said the safety of its residents was “always paramount and we have taken unprecedented steps to ensure the blocks are safe for people to stay in if they choose”.

She added: “Arup are leading professionals in their field who we gave full access to the towers to make a thorough and comprehensive assessment on these buildings.

“We have absolutely no evidence to suggest their assessment is incorrect and whilst we respect that people may have their own opinion we do not feel it is in anyone’s interest for individuals to continue to second-guess and speculate about the situation, particularly when they have an incomplete picture.”

The four 13-storey towers at the Ledbury estate feature 56 flats per block and are believed to be home to around 200 people per block. They were commissioned and built in the mid-1960s by the then-GLC and were constructed using a prefabricated system involving concrete panels faced in Norfolk flint.