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Estate residents warn of ‘second Ronan Point’ disaster 50 years on

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Residents on a South London estate have warned the government it runs the risk of a ‘second Ronan Point’, 50 years on from the partial collapse of the tower block that killed four people

On the 16 May 1968, a gas explosion caused an entire corner of the high-rise in Canning Town, east London, to collapse.

Ronan Point was built using the Large Panel System (LPS) method, whereby prefabricated concrete sections were assembled on site, resting one upon the other and held together only by their own weight.

The explosion, caused when a resident lit her stove, blew out the loadbearing flank walls, which had been supporting the four flats directly above. This resulted in a ‘house of cards’ progressive collapse as the floors above were left unsupported.

Following the disaster, the government ordered local authorities to check that LPS blocks were strengthened to withstand blast pressures. If not, the blocks should have their gas supply removed.

But half a century on, checks carried out in the wake of Grenfell fire have revealed that four towers on the Ledbury Estate in Peckham still have gas connected and have not been strengthened to the required standard.

Hundreds of residents were evacuated last August, including Danielle Gregory who lived on the 12th floor of the Bromyard Tower with her three children.

Gregory, who launched the Ledbury Action Group to raise awareness of the safety issues, has warned that the Ronan Point disaster could easily be repeated unless action is taken.

‘If the government do not step in now and offer support, funding and a dedicated body to address the issues in Large Panel System blocks, then we are at risk of seeing another Ronan Point,’ she said.

‘It takes something like Grenfell for this to happen. It’s time the government learnt that there is no one who understands buildings better than the people who live in them.’

Following the Ledbury estate discovery, Southwark Council is considering whether to demolish the towers, and the government asked all local authorities and housing associations to undertake rigorous tests on their blocks.

Structural investigations have since taken place in boroughs across the UK.

In Leicester, the council took the decision to flatten Goscote House, a 23-storey residential tower, due to fears over the building’s ‘ongoing structural stability’.

Last month all tenants from two tower blocks in Rugby were evacuated over fire-safety concerns.

Tests undertaken on the Lethbridge Estate in Lewisham, released under FoI to Ledbury Action Group, found no evidence of structural strengthening had taken place, and the estate also still had a connected gas supply.

In Haringey, Broadwater Farm Estate’s Tangmere and Northolt blocks also require significant works to prevent ‘potential structural problems in the event of a vehicle driving into the block, or from an explosion from bottled gas’.

Structural surveys have also been undertaken at Hackney Council’s Gascoyne Estate, and by housing association Gentoo, which owns Gilley Law, a group of seven 17-storey towers in Sunderland.

There have also been further tests on blocks on Hammersmith and Fulham’s Aintree Estate which had previously been strengthened. The local authoirty commissioned a structural assessment by engineer Arup of the interior of the towers which included an investigation into the longevitiy and future endurance of the strengthening work.

The Hackitt Review, a post-Grenfell independent review of Building Regulations, is expected to be published tomorrow morning.

The Ledbury Action Group hopes the review will include recommendations for the government to set up a taskforce to ensure that LPS blocks across the country are thoroughly tested.

‘The government wrote the letter [to local authorities] but it feels like they are covering themselves,’ she said, adding: ‘The emphasis is on local authorities to do it themselves. Some of the owners have just referred to historical records and lots of assumptions are being made.’

 
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