An investigation by Arup has found that Ledbury Estate tower blocks do not conform with building regulations

Ledbury Estate

Work to remove the piped gas network at four tower blocks in south east London that have been deemed unsafe by Arup has already begun.

Arup’s recommendation for the complete removal of the gas pipe network at Peckham’s Ledbury Estate comes after it was hired last month by the estate’s owner Southwark council to investigate the structure of the towers following reports from residents of cracks in walls and ceilings. The investigation was then expanded to see if the estate complied with building regulations for towers with piped gas.

The firm said in a letter to the council that its investigation so far had found that the buildings currently do not satisfy government recommendations for “large panel system tower blocks with piped gas”.

Arup added that it had been unable to locate any drawings of the buildings showing the construction details or details of any strengthening of the towers. The towers, built between 1968 and 1971, should have been strengthened according to government recommendations that were issued for towers with a large panel design after the Ronan Point collapse in 1968 when a gas explosion led to the deaths of four people.

Strengthening the buildings to provide adequate “robustness” for piped gas would be “impractical”, Arup said, because it would mean strengthening wall and floor elements as well as the joints. So instead it has recommended removing the entire gas pipe network.

The firm added that removing gas from the buildings would “take away the immediate risk as well as significantly reducing the amount of strengthening required”.

The investigation is continuing in the absence of any construction details as requested by the council Arup said, but pointed out that carrying out this work in inhabited flats would be intrusive and it would best be done on empty flats.

Arup’s investigation is expected to take a number of weeks and it will be “sampling as many flats as possible”. A council spokesperson informed Building that it was “impossible to put an end date on the investigation and works at this stage”.

The four towers at the Ledbury Estate house 56 flats per block and are believed to be home to around 200 people per block. They were built by Taylor Woodrow Anglian for the Greater London Council (GLC), which was abolished in 1986.

Stephanie Cryan, Southwark council’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.”

A council spokesperson confirmed to building that the gas supply to the towers had now been switched off and in the short term residents have been supplied with hot plates and access to leisure centres for washing facilities.