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DCLG consults 10 councils over “historic” tower block gas concerns

Several authorities contacted over possible issue with tower block gas supply; Southwark Council installing electric heaters at four buildings in response

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has written to ten local authorities about specific gas supply systems that may have been used in some of their buildings after issues were raised about similar solutions at four tower blocks in the London Borough of Southwark.

According to a letter sent by the DCLG, a “historic issue” that has seen the piped gas supply at four tower blocks in Southwark being shut off indefinitely was viewed as potentially relevant to a number of other large panel system blocks.

The concerns were raised after structural engineers conducting safety tests at the four Ledbury Tower blocks could not find records concerning the construction of the buildings or any remedial work undertaken to strengthen the properties against the potential impacts of a gas explosion.  The work had been expected to be undertaken at Ledbury and a number of similar properties following the partial collapse of the Ronan Point block in Newham after a gas supply explosion in 1968.

Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has now written to local authorities that were believed to have once used similar systems in light of the recent safety inspections in Southwark.

The DCLG declined to identify the authorities that may have once used or still have similar solutions in place, but confirmed that letters had been sent by the secretary of state to 10 councils that may be impacted.  The department has said that consultations were ongoing with these authorities.

Tamara Finkelstein, director general of the DCLG-established Building Safety Programme, said that it was unclear whether recommended assessments or work were undertaken at the Ledbury Tower blocks.  Ms Finkelstein said further scrutiny was required at similar properties in the UK.

“In light of these findings from Southwark, you should ascertain whether buildings with large panel systems in your area also have piped gas. If they do, you should take action to ensure that these buildings can carry piped gas safely,” she said.

Replacement heating

Southwark Council announced on August 10 that it was turning off the gas supply at the four Ledbury Tower blocks as a “safety measure” after structural engineers from Arup investigated concerns about cracking in the tower that was raised by residents.

The authority said that during these investigations, the engineers raised a separate issue about the gas supply to the blocks that was initially expected to lead to longer-term relocation of residents housed there.

The council said: “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.”

After investigators concluded that the information held by the council on the history of work on the blocks may be incorrect, it was decided to shut down the gas supply for the buildings.  The council said it was now in the process of introducing electric immersion heaters in the blocks as part of a process that is intended to be completed as quickly as possible.

With the full Arup safety report into the buildings to be published shortly, a spokesperson for the authority said that the work planned for the building was currently viewed as an engineering issue that presented “no immediate risk”.

Residents from six properties in the blocks have taken up the offer to be moved into temporary accommodation during the process.  The council said it was not presently looking to rehouse residents as a result of the ongoing work.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has written to ten local authorities about specific gas supply systems that may have been used in some of their buildings after issues were raised about similar solutions at four tower blocks in the London Borough of Southwark.

According to a letter sent by the DCLG, a “historic issue” that has seen the piped gas supply at four tower blocks in Southwark being shut off indefinitely was viewed as potentially relevant to a number of other large panel system blocks.

The concerns were raised after structural engineers conducting safety tests at the four Ledbury Tower blocks could not find records concerning the construction of the buildings or any remedial work undertaken to strengthen the properties against the potential impacts of a gas explosion.  The work had been expected to be undertaken at Ledbury and a number of similar properties following the partial collapse of the Ronan Point block in Newham after a gas supply explosion in 1968.

Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has now written to local authorities that were believed to have had similar systems in light of the discovery during recent safety inspections in Southwark.

“As a part of their building safety checks, the investigator’s work identified a historic issue about the piped gas supply in the blocks, which may be relevant to other large panel system blocks across the country.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/637402/SofS_Letter_to_LA_Chief_Executives_11_Aug.pdf

DCLG declined to identify authorities that may have once used or still have similar solutions in place, but confirmed that letters had been sent by the secretary of state to 10 councils that may be impacted.  The department has said that consultations were ongoing with these authorities.

Tamara Finkelstein, director general of the DCLG-established Building Safety Programme, said that it was unclear whether recommended assessments or work were undertaken at the Ledbury Tower blocks.  Ms Finkelstein said further scrutiny was therefore required at similar properties in the UK.

“In light of these findings from Southwark, you should ascertain whether buildings with large panel systems in your area also have piped gas. If they do, you should take action to ensure that these buildings can carry piped gas safely,” she said.

Replacement heating

Southwark Council announced on August 10 that it was turning off the gas supply at the four Ledbury Tower blocks as a “safety measure” after structural engineers from Arup investigated concerns about cracking in the tower that was raised by residents.

The authority said that during these investigations, the engineers raised a separate issue about the gas supply to the blocks that was initially expected to lead to longer-term relocation of residents housed there.

The council said: “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.”

https://www.southwark.gov.uk/news/2017/aug/ledbury-towers-gas-removal

“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.”

After investigators concluded that the information held by the council on the history of work on the blocks may be incorrect, it was decided to shut down the gas supply.  The council said it was now in the process of introducing electric immersion heaters in the blocks as part of a process that is intended to be completed as quickly as possible.

With the full Arup safety report into the buildings yet to be published, a spokesperson for the authority said that the work planned for the building was viewed as an engineering issue that presented “no immediate risk”.

While six families have taken up the offer to be moved into temporary accommodation during the process, the council said it was not presently looking to rehouse residents as a result of the ongoing work.

The findings of Arup’s safety investigation of the Ledbury Tower blocks are expected to be published shortly.

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