The leader of Southwark Council has robustly defended his deputy, over calls from Ledbury Estate residents that the cabinet member for housing and deputy leader should resign.
The response from councillor Peter John with regards to his colleague, Cllr Stephanie Cryan’s position, follows revelations about the potential risk of collapse in the event of a gas explosion in the towers.
Residents were told via a letter on Thursday, August 10, that they would need to leave the four thirteen-storey blocks whilst “intrusive” fire-safety checks and major works are carried out. Gas supplies were also switched off.
Building firm Arup were ordered by Southwark Council to carry out the tests after independent fire experts raised the issue with residents and the media that the towers would be vulnerable to “collapse” if a gas explosion occurred.
The council confirmed on August 10 that “strengthening works” – carried out on estates under government order across the UK, following the deadly Ronan Point tower block collapse in Newham in 1968 – may never have happened on the Ledbury, which were built that same year.
The letter to residents said: “This new information means we are now planning to temporarily decant the blocks over the coming weeks and months.
“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.”
But a spokesperson for the recently formed Ledbury Action Group has said they believe Southwark’s cabinet member for housing, Cllr Stephanie Cryan (pictured), should resign.
“She should resign on the basis that the blocks have never been safe to have gas, and independent experts were telling them his over a month ago after making just one visit, but the council wouldn’t admit they were wrong,” the spokesperson said. “Meanwhile, she [Cllr Cryan] as well as Gerri Scott [head of housing] and Ian Swift [housing options manager] have all gone on holiday while we’re in desperate need.”
The spokesperson added: “I feel so emotional, so heartbroken, and sad to be leaving the Ledbury. But the only consolation is knowing that leaving will mean our children will be safe.”
Cllr John responded: “I strongly support Cllr Cryan and the work she’s been doing. And I’d question how many people are calling for her to resign – when we’ve been down on the estate, the vast majority of people are supportive of what we are trying to do. And it’s completely gratuitous – how can Stephanie be to blame for designs made by the GLC back in the 1960s?”
A council spokeswoman said staff were in place to cover the senior officers who were on holiday, and that officers had been stationed at the estate’s TRA hall 24-hours-a-day to speak to residents.
Cllr John also wrote to residents on Tuesday after the visiting the day before.
His letter confirmed a “major works programme” is “likely to start next year to bring the Ledbury Towers up to an excellent standard, with a permanent solution to the cracks”. It also said residents “will of course be given the right to return to the towers… once they have been repaired and refurbished”. And that plans for “compensation” payments will be decided.
Cllr John told the News that electric cookers and immersion heaters would be provided to residents to help them cook whilst gas has been cut.
Residents have also been told to use showers at Peckham Pulse leisure centre.
“The situation is evolving very rapidly, but we have a huge team of people working on this, trying to help everyone on the estate as best we can,” Cllr John said.
Since July 19 the council has been offering to move tenants to new flats by placing them in Band One on the housing waiting list, and offering home loss payments of £5,800.
Fire wardens remain on every second floor of the four towers, tasked with assisting with an evacuation should a fire occur.