No lessons learned following Ronan Point

Large Panel System (LPS) built tower blocks was the cheap and expedient response to post war housing need. Yet the system was fatally flawed and now widely discredited. Yet it seems many seriously unsafe buildings remain. It is 50 years since Ronan Point collapsed and in the wake of the disasters at Lakanal House and Grenfell Tower Danielle Gregory from Ledbury Estate calls for urgent action. She says " It was thought that the Ledbury Estate was a one-off, one estate which had somehow slipped through the net and not been strengthened." Through her initial research Danielle has identified that there are potentially at risk blocks in Hackney, Haringey, Hammersmith & Fulham, Leicester, Lewisham, Rugby and more.

She calls for Government action now " 50 years ago, the Government of the day issued circulars and effectively left building owners to get on with it. Who was checking that the strengthening work was ever actually carried out on these buildings? Apparently nobody. Who was checking that if strengthening was done, that it actually worked and was effective in making these buildings resistant to the vulnerabilities of progressive collapse? Apparently nobody.

If the Government do not step in now and offer support, funding and a dedicated body to address the issues in Large Panel System blocks, then we are at risk of seeing another Ronan Point."

This is an example of the importance of listening to the voice of tenants and residents who know their blocks. Read the full article with images at: blog. Or here is the plain text version.

No Lessons Learned Following Ronan Point

By Danielle Gregory,

Wednesday 16th May 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the partial collapse of Ronan Point, a 22 storey tower block in Newham, East London. On 16th May 1968, tenant Ivy Hodge lit a match to light her gas stove, resulting in an explosion which brought down one side of the building, killing four people and injuring many more. Ivy Hodge herself survived the blast.

Ronan Point was a Large Panel System tower block, built cheaply and quickly in response to the urgent need for housing in the UK following WWII. Taylor Woodrow Anglian were a newly formed company who began building these blocks in the late 1960's. They had purchased a licence for a method of construction from Denmark called 'Larsen Nielsen' - this method was originally designed to be built only up to 6 storeys high. Taylor Woodrow Anglian built blocks using this method nearly four times as high as recommended. The large concrete panels were bolted together onsite, using unskilled labour. They have no supporting frame, and only their own weight and gravity holding the structure together.

Following the collapse of Ronan Point, the UK Government quickly issued circulars (62/68 and 71/68). These documents said that if these types of Large Panel System tower blocks could not withstand certain blast pressures, then gas supplies needed to be removed, and the buildings must undergo structural strengthening.

Ledbury Estate Southwark

Fast forward nearly 50 years to the discovery at the Ledbury Estate, that four 13-storey Taylor Woodrow Anglian tower blocks had never undergone this structural strengthening, they were also fitted with a gas supply. An explosion at any time over the past 50 years could have led to collapse. Upon learning this, Southwark Council turned off the gas supply and instructed ARUP engineers to design a strengthening solution for the Ledbury towers, which would bring them up to meet the building regulations. In the meantime, the towers are in the process of being decanted for either major works, or demolition ahead of a decision by Southwark Council on the future of the four towers in September.

As a result of the discoveries at the Ledbury Estate last summer, the Government wrote to all local authorities and housing associations who own Large Panel System tower blocks asking them to undertake intrusive tests, and not to rely on historical records. It was thought that the Ledbury Estate was a one-off, one estate which had somehow slipped through the net and not been strengthened, perhaps due to the timing of the handover from the Greater London Council to Southwark Council or records having been lost.

Ledbury Action Group have followed up the tests that were ordered by the Government, and we have been issuing Freedom of Information requests to the various local authorities who own Taylor Woodrow Anglian tower blocks, to try and piece together what is happening on estates elsewhere. Some the results are shocking, and demonstrate that Ledbury Estate is certainly not a one-off:

Lethbridge Estate, Lewisham

Lethbridge Estate, located between Greenwich and Lewisham and owned by Lewisham Homes, was already subject to a demolition order, ahead of a regeneration programme that has been scheduled for several years. However, recent results of the tests undertaken on that estate by ARUP engineers show that they also have found no evidence of structural strengthening ever having been done there. This estate also had a gas supply. Lewisham Homes took the unprecedented step of leaving the gas supply on, going against ARUP's advice and instead, decided to speed up the decanting of residents. Read the full ARUP report on Lethbridge Estate here.

Hartopp & Lannoy Points, Aintree Estate, Hammersmith & Fulham

Both these tower blocks fail to meet the building regulations. What is unusual is that both Hartopp & Lannoy Points did undergo some structural strengthening following Ronan Point, however, even with that strengthening, they still do not conform to the building regulations and require further major strengthening. Read the Hartopp & Lannoy ARUP report here.

Broadwater Farm Estate, Haringey

Homes For Haringey have refused to release the reports relating to recent structural assessments of the Taylor Woodrow Anglian blocks on the Broadwater Farm Estate, saying that they are in draft format and therefore 'not in the public interest.' They have, however, provided a minimal amount of information on their website here.

Of particular interest is the sentence: 'Tangmere and Northolt blocks also require significant works to prevent potential structural problems in the event of a vehicle driving into the block, or from an explosion from bottled gas or a faulty oxygen cylinder.' They go on to say 'Homes For Haringey will be carrying out a further options appraisal to look at strengthening works for Northolt and Tangmere.'

Gascoyne Estate, Hackney

In response to the letter from the Government, Hackney Council instructed structural engineers to look at the four Taylor Woodrow Anglian blocks on that estate. Vanner, Hensley, Heathcote and Ravenscroft points. The structural engineers somehow mis-identified these blocks as 'Bison' form of construction, see their report here.

These blocks are actually listed as Taylor Woodrow Anglian in the BRE report 'The Structural of Ronan Point and Other Taylor Woodrow Anglian Buildings, page 38 here. We have brought this error to the attention of Hackney Council to look into.

Goscote House, Leicester

Leicester have taken a decision to demolish their only Taylor Woodrow Anglian tower block. The Leicester City Council Cabinet decision quotes ' It has also come to light that blocks constructed the same in other areas of the county are now starting to show signs of stress fractures and landlord are taking the decision to vacant the blocks as a precaution measure. It would be naive of us to ignore what is going on in other parts of the country' and refers to a press release from Southwark Council. See the minutes of that meeting here.