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Minister tells councils to ensure gas safety in high-rises

Thom brisco tweet of ledbury tower
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Communities secretary Sajid Javid has written to 10 councils urging them to ensure the safety of certain tower blocks after the gas supply was turned off at four high-rise buildings in London

Javid urged local authorities with residential towers constructed with the large panel system (LPS) used at Ledbury Towers in South London to take action.

Southwark Council last week asked Southern Gas Network to stop supplying the four blocks of Ledbury Towers after investigations found the buildings did not comply with government recommendations.

A DCLG spokesman said communities secretary Sajid Javid had written to 10 councils ‘known to have similar constructed blocks to Ledbury’ and was in touch with them to monitor progress on safety checks.

‘We have written to the councils saying that they should ascertain whether buildings with LPS in their area have piped gas,’ said the spokesman. ‘If they do, they should take action to ensure that these buildings can carry piped gas safely and they may want to take expert advice to assure themselves of this.’

Retired architect and tall building safety expert Sam Webb told the AJ that it was his challenge that led to inspections at Ledbury Towers. He said: ‘I wonder what would have happened to Ledbury if I hadn’t voiced my concerns.

‘Certainly other LPS blocks in the UK should be inspected. The first step is to see if they have gas and [to ensure] councils are not relying on 50-year-old promises that the blocks are safe for gas.’

Webb warned of the threat of an incident similar to the May 1968 partial collapse of 22-storey Ronan Point in East London – triggered by a ‘relatively minor’ gas explosion, according to the BRE – which killed four people.

Referring to the recent findings about Ledbury Towers, Webb said: ‘No one knows how widespread this problem could be.

‘I think we have been very lucky that nothing on the scale of Ronan Point has happened since 1968. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t – look at what happened at Grenfell Tower.’

Ronan Point - 1968

Ronan Point - 1968

Ronan Point - 1968

Southwark Council sent letters on 10 August to residents of Ledbury Towers saying their gas supply was being turned off as a safety measure.

The local authority said residents had initially raised concerns about cracks in the buildings, prompting the council to appoint engineers Arup to investigate.

‘While Arup were part-way through their investigation, a separate historic issue was raised regarding the gas supply in the blocks,’ said Southwark Council in a statement.

‘Records showed that a gas supply was installed when the blocks were built around 1968-1970, soon after a gas explosion at the similarly constructed Ronan Point block in Newham caused a partial collapse of that block.

‘Records showed that the design of the Ledbury blocks and other blocks across the country had been strengthened following Ronan Point, to make them safe to carry a gas supply. However, we wanted to delve deeper for more assurance, and instructed Arup to include this issue as part of their investigation.’

Arup said in a statement: ‘After carrying out intrusive investigations, Arup has informed Southwark Council that the blocks do not comply with the government recommendations for the robustness of LPS tower blocks with piped gas.

‘The relevant requirements are set out in The Building Regulations 2010 with recommendations in the BRE 2012 best practice guideline (BR 511). It is important to note that Arup’s findings are completely separate to the issues of the cracks, and could not have been discovered without intrusive investigations.’

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