THEN- In 1968 Ronan Point experienced progressive collapse; a small gas explosion caused one side of the building to fall down like a pack of cards. The block was rebuilt. The Building Regulations were changed and it was stated that these blocks were safe.
Ronan Point was a large panel system block (LPS) and the particular system used was Taylor Woodrow Anglian (TWA). LPS blocks were planned to have a sixty year lifespan and incorrectly expected to be cost effective as the panels were pre-cast on or offsite and construction work was carried out by unskilled labour.
The collapse of Ronan Point led to an end of LPS construction in the UK because the building regulations were changed as a result. The regulatory changes that resulted were that only buildings that could withstand a pressure (from a explosion, high wind or fire) equivalent to 5psi could have gas in them and every building must be able to withstand a pressure of 2.5psi.
AND THEN - In the 1980s the Newham Tower Blocks Campaign, advised by architect Sam Webb, raised concerns which led to structural investigations that found that the 22 story Ronan Point and its eight twin blocks were not able to withstand a pressure of 2.5psi and they could have collapsed in a high wind, fire or explosion.
Newham Council demolished the nine blocks and replacement housing was built.
Since the Grenfell disaster, tenants and independent experts have become increasingly concerned about the condition of tower blocks in this country.TWA blocks have once again been a focus of attention in many areas including Southwark, Hammersmith and Fulham, Tower Hamlets, Haringey and Leicester.
AND NOW-In 2017 four blocks in Southwark on the Ledbury Estate were found to contain gas and yet not to meet the legal minimum requirement of 2.5psi - these blocks did not meet the legal requirement to be occupied, let alone to have gas in them. Onsite investigations found that these blocks do not comply with current structural regulations. Two blocks in Hammersmith and Fulham have now been found to face the same problems although they have never had piped gas. Haringey are investigating their Broadwater Farm TWA blocks, where their 7 storey blocks have got piped gas, although not their tall blocks. TWA blocks in Tower Hamlets have been found to have cladding, not the cladding used in Grenfell but still an additional cause for concern as rapid spread of flame could lead to progressive collapse. This cladding is being removed. On 12th March 2018, the Housing Scrutiny Committee of Leicester Council recommended the demolition of their TWA block: “Goscote House should be decommissioned and demolished... This is because the long term structural integrity of the concrete frame cannot be guaranteed for longer than 5 years.” Could this change of policy be as a result of the recent fire there in January 2018?
As we can see local authorities are responding to these concerns in a range of ways while the government has not provided any additional resources. As a matter of urgency the MInistry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should undertake a systematic review of large panel system blocks across the country.
click boxes to read documents
1987 BREs report into large panel system defects
1987, Part 1 of the BRE report describes the investigations of structural adequacy and durability of large panel system dwellings, and Part 2 gives general guidance on the appraisal of such dwellings
1981 Stratford and Newtown Point being demolished. Newham Tower Block Tenants Campaign hold a blow up party as the buildings were structurally unsound and financially unviable
1984: Investigation into large panel systems nationally, structural issues featured here have arisen again for tenants in Hammersmith and Fulham.
1985 BRE’s report on the findings at Ronan Point and the implications for other Taylor Woodrow Anglian buildings
1984 Leader of the Newham Council, Cllr Fred Jones and BRE tests in the empty Ronan Point including fire test within a flat to test one hour compartmentation.
1984 Structural defects identified in Ronan Point estimated to cost £5m to remedy
1969: Tenants leave Ronan Point flats
Community Links, based in the London Borough of Newham, is now 40 years old and in this book about its national projects also shares stories about the local work from which it all began.
Chapter Two describes the development of the tower blocks campaigning work. This chapter covers the Newham Tower Block Tenants Campaign and the highly effective Ronan Point campaign. In this campaign it was revealed that Ronan Point, the notorious large panel system block that collapsed 50 years ago in May 1968, although rebuilt was still in fact structurally unstable. Tenants, Community Links workers, architects, local politicians and journalists all came together to ensure that the truth about Ronan Point would this time be fully revealed. Ronan Point was emptied and then given to the Building Research Establishment (BRE) to test to destruction. The block failed its fire test, within 11 minutes the fire had spread, the flats could not contain a fire for one hour and therefore breached Building Regulations. When the load bearing joints were opened up instead of solid concrete they were found to contain old tin cans and screwed up newspaper. Ronan Point and its eight twin blocks were structurally unsound, they could collapse in a high wind, explosion or serious fire. All were demolished.
The lessons of Ronan Point were shared through The National Tower Blocks Network and many tenants groups went on to identify similar safety problems in their large panel blocks.
Ricky Chambers is a British documentary filmmaker interested in the persuasive power of narration, personal and historical memory and film as a speculative, relational and subversive medium. He says:
“ And then we heard shouts and cries is an experimental documentary made in response to a significant historical event of our recent past. Its principle character, is a 22-storey east London tower-block which, on 16th May 1968, partially collapsed due to a gas explosion, leaving four people dead.
50 years on Ronan Point is now absent from the skyline, palpable only through the recollections of those who once lived there. Over the past year, I have recorded conversations with these people, and it is their myriad accounts that form the narration of the resultant film.”
His short film (25 mins long) And then we heard shouts and cries, can be viewed for free at https://vimeo.com/263826593