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
June 1968 - the brother of Ivy Hodge writes to James Marlow, Secretary to the Ronan Point Inquiry requesting that his sister is able to have legal representation.
Ivy Hodge remained adamant that she did not light a match that sparked a gas explosion. Meanwhile 18 resident witnesses reported hearing noises from their flats prior to the explosion. Read more below.
Investigations of Ronan Point, 1984
by Sam Webb (RIBA)
Sheets 1 & 2 are my drawings. Sheet 1 is the survey I carried out with my students, tenants, Frances Clark, Cllr Fred Jones, Cllr Jean Reeves, Dick Shepherd Housing Officer. I divided us up into 5 groups so there were at least 2 per flat. After we finished we met in the corridor and went back if there was a significant find.
Sheets 3-6 are overhead projector slides from Newham”s engineers. In the fire test the floor sagged 75mm and not 50mm as shown. Also the H2 joint (A) moved 18mm and not 5mm. Someone was putting a spin on the figures.
Sheet 6 is the key one. The dimensions of the flank wall flat 90 is 29 feet long or 8.84m. The load at 2nd floor level is 85 tonnes a metre at the second floor.or 751.4 tonnes for the full length of the wall. There are three panels with 2 lifting bolts per panel and 6 bolts each carry 125.25 tonnes of vertical dead load when they are not meant to be carrying any load as the nuts were meant to be slackened off.
Almost every single bolt was tight up against the underside of the panel above so what was meant to be a uniformly distributed load (UDL) became a series of very dangerously overloaded point loads.
The difference between UDL and a point load is the difference between a person stepping on you foot with flat shoes and the same person stepping on your foot wearing stiletto heels.
This was worse in high winds because the building swayed at least 6 inches. This would lift one side of the building reducing the load on the bolts which would transfer to the other side and dramatically increase the load. This could lead to a sudden catastrophic failure like the bridge linking Italy and France.
I carried out a finger tip survey inside the stair tower of the building and recorded an A4 drawing of every floor and all four sides. Of course it was possible to examine the horizontal joints between panels.
I assembled all the sheets together on long tables the next day and it became very clear the cracks were caused by the movement of Ronan Point as it swayed in the wind were far worse in the bottom storeys than the top ones. When Ronan Point was taken down, panel by panel, we found lifting bolts had bent under this action.Unfortunately I can’t find the sheets now.
The last sheets 7-9 are from Joan Littlewood’s copy of the report with her scribbles and some of mine on page 9 where I’ve indicated the wall between the two kitchens with the 5 ilbs psi crack in it.
That then formed the basis of the changes to the building regulations. There was no great scientific study, they just seized on the 5lbs psi and put it in Circulat 62/68 and then the 5th Amendment to the Building Regs 1970, fifty years ago tomorrow.
Generation Change - Community Links
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.