Ledbury Towers gas removal

11 August 2017

Yesterday afternoon (10 August) Southwark Council sent letters to the residents in the four Ledbury Tower blocks to explain that their gas supply was being turned off as a safety measure. Here we explain why this is necessary and what we are doing to help residents.

The background

Some weeks ago, in response to concerns about cracks in the Ledbury Towers raised by residents following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Southwark Council instructed structural engineers from Arup to investigate the cause of the cracking. While Arup were part-way through their investigation, a separate historic issue was raised regarding the gas supply in the blocks. 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.

The issue

Yesterday we heard from Arup, who informed us, based on their structural investigations, that the information we have regarding the history of the blocks may not be correct, and we have therefore taken the decision to turn off the gas supply to all Ledbury tower blocks immediately, and have asked Southern Gas Network to do so. Although we recognise the inconvenience to residents, we are not willing to take any risks with their safety.

What have we done to make the building safe and provide support to residents?

  • Southwark Council gives absolute priority to the safety of its residents, and fully recognises the concerns this news will raise. Council officers will remain on site to answer any questions and support residents
  • In the short term we are providing residents with hot plates and we have opened our leisure centres to residents to use showers. Over the coming weeks we will be installing single electrical water heater and electric ovens in the flats
  • Some media reports have claimed the building is being evacuated – this is not accurate. We are not immediately evacuating the buildings as we have made them safe by turning off the gas. Over the coming weeks we will be installing single electrical water heater and electric ovens in the flats
  • In the longer term a major works programme will be carried out and at this time we will be working with residents individually to find them alternative accommodation. Council tenants have also been told that if they wish to move out of the blocks permanently they will be placed in Band 1 as top priority to bid for a new home

Cllr Stephanie Cryan, 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.”

You can read the full text of the letter below:

10 August 2017

Dear resident,

As you know, in response to concerns about cracks in the Ledbury Towers raised by residents following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Southwark Council instructed structural engineers from Arup to investigate the cause of the cracking.

While Arup were part-way through their investigation, a separate historic issue was raised regarding the gas supply in the blocks. 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.

Earlier today I heard from Arup, who regrettably informed us, based on their structural investigations, that the information we have regarding the history of the blocks may not be correct, and we have therefore taken the decision to turn off the gas supply to all Ledbury tower blocks immediately, and have asked Southern Gas Network to do so. Whilst we know this will be very inconvenient for residents, we are not willing to take any risks with your safety. We will continue to review the situation and let you know if anything changes as investigations continue.

However, what this currently means for you is:

Short term

  • We will immediately provide temporary hotplates so that you can prepare hot meals.
  • We will give residents an upfront payment to cover any increase in electricity bills as a result of the temporary measures. This will be processed automatically as soon as possible.
  • We have arranged for affected residents to have free access to the shower facilities at any of the Southwark leisure centres, including the nearest, Peckham Leisure Centre – please take proof of your address along.
  • We are working towards a solution to install a single electrical water heater in each flat as soon as possible, for your bathroom and kitchen needs.
  • If you have specific needs which means the temporary solutions are unsuitable, please speak to one of our resident services officers about other options.
  • Anyone with a gas oven will be provided with a brand new electric oven as soon as possible.

Longer term

  • We had hoped to allow residents to remain in the Ledbury blocks while we carried out the work to fix the cracks, but this new information means we are now planning to temporarily decant the blocks over the coming weeks and months. We will talk to you all individually to discuss the possibilities available to you.
  • We are in the process of purchasing a new build block in the vicinity of the Ledbury Estate and plan to reserve the 80 council properties at council rents for Ledbury Tower residents. We are also holding properties as they become empty in other parts of the borough for those affected.
  • We have already offered Band 1 priority on our housing list for anyone wishing to move, and this offer stands.
  • All residents will be offered the right to return to the refurbished Ledbury blocks, and every council flat will remain a council property, available for council rent.
  • Leaseholders will not be charged for any of the work, and we will work with you to identify interim arrangements for your accommodation. If you wish to consider selling your home please contact the My Southwark Homeowners Service.
  • We are working up a detailed timetable, as we know you will want certainty about what will happen when, so that you can plan. We will share this with you as soon as we can.

What you should do:

  • Please speak to one of our resident services officers who are on site if you have any specific questions or concerns.
  • We suggest you contact your gas provider immediately and ask them to cancel your contract to provide gas to your property. The council will cover any costs you incur to do this.
  • It is very important that you do not use any portable gas appliances while we carry out this work and complete our refurbishment of the buildings.

Council staff will continue to be available in your block every day to discuss any of these issues with you, and answer your questions. We understand what a difficult time it has been for you over the last few weeks, and are very sorry for the worry and disruption caused.  Since these issues first came to light we have shared all available information with you, and we will continue to do so. Whilst we know some of the measures we are taking won’t be popular, our number one priority is keeping you safe.
We will send you more information as soon as it becomes available.

Yours faithfully,
Gerri Scott
Strategic Director for Housing & Modernisation 

Page last updated: 11 August 2017