The Ledbury Estate tower blocks will be given a new heating system in October, despite experts’ advice that they should be demolished.
The four fourteen-storey towers near Old Kent Road had gas supplies cut in August, after it was discovered they could collapse in the event of a gas explosion because of structural defects.
A few households have moved to new accommodation, whilst some residents have been given immersion heaters for hot showers, and hotplates for cooking.
But the council has confirmed that works to replace the gas heating with a district boiler system have been postponed to “mid-late October”.
Residents in the Ledbury Action Group had questioned if the works would still go ahead. And the group’s organiser Danielle Gregory warned that residents would get ill as the cold weather approaches.
Experts Arnold Tarling and Sam Webb told the council that installing a new heating system would risk weakening the concrete blocks even further, and increase the chance of collapse.
Arnold and Sam – both fire-safety experts and structural surveyors – were the first to highlight the dangers at the Ledbury in July.
At a meeting on September 12 with Council Leader Peter John, Arnold and Sam cast doubt on whether the blocks can withstand the drilling required to put hot water pipes through every flats’ floor and ceiling.
Arnold later told the News: “The towers [built between 1968-70] are at the end of their 60-year lifespan. But as it reaches its lifespan the concrete will keep expanding and keep weakening and that will eventually cause the concrete panels to be pushed out. If there’s a fire the concrete would expand even more rapidly and the building could collapse.”
“The council’s actions suggest they are going to spend a lot of money on heating and fire safety. As far as we are concerned, it’s a waste of money, because they will still have a property with limited years left.”
Cllr John said: “The council has commissioned leading engineers Arup to assess the blocks, and will explore all the evidence, both from Sam Webb and colleagues before making a long-term decision.” He added that it is still the council’s preference not to demolish the blocks.
The Ledbury Action Group also told the News that if demolition is needed, the council must not go back on its earlier commitment: that any new builds would be social housing.
Cllr John said: “[If] we have no choice to demolish them because of a risk to our residents, then we will of course look at every available option to maintain council housing at the current levels on this site.
“However, as a local authority with limited borrowing and spending power… we are extremely unlikely to be in a position to demolish and rebuild [the Ledbury] without some private sector cross-subsidy. This is a simple reality of public sector housing funding at the moment, although we would always explore all options.”
Liberal Democrat leader, councillor Anood Al-Samerai, said: “Whether the future of the blocks is refurbishment or demolition, Liberal Democrat councillors are clear that the land should remain for council homes and must not be privatised.”