Audit, Inspection and Safety

14.08.17

Southwark Council cuts off gas in tower blocks amidst national safety concerns

A London council has cut off the gas supply to a number of high-rise tower blocks in its area to ensure the safety of its residents.

Following the Grenfell Tower disaster back in June, residents of the Ledbury Towers, overseen by Southwark Council, raised concerns about cracking in the buildings.

But after sending in structural engineers to check the safety of the blocks, it was found that further testing and maintenance work was needed to ensure their security. The council has taken the decision to shut off the gas supply in the building as it is “not willing to take any risks with their safety”.

A letter explaining the reasons for the gas being turned off has been sent to residents, and Southwark says it will provide them with hot plates to cook on and open up leisure centres for people to use the shower facilities. The authority has also confirmed that buildings are not being evacuated.

It also stated that a major works programme will now be carried out and that the local authority will work with residents individually to fund alternative accommodation. Anyone wanting to move out immediately has also been told they will be placed in Band 1 as a top priority bid for a new home elsewhere.

“At every stage of this investigation, we have put residents’ safety first, and acted on the best information available,” said Cllr Stephanie Cryan, deputy leader and cabinet member of Southwark Council.

“We are doing all we can to provide residents with alternatives while the gas is turned off, and are working up a plan to permanently replace the gas with electric ovens, boilers etc. as part of the wider works, should that be necessary.

“We have also written to the DCLG to inform them of this issue, as it may well have implications for other blocks around the country that were constructed in this way.”

The LGA’s chairman, Lord Porter, has written about this issue for the latest edition of PSE, in which he argues that everything must be clear and out in the open if the public are to have any faith in the safety testing process.

Councils ‘cannot afford’ to carry out tests on high rises

The news from the central London area follows serious warnings from the LGA that councils will simply not be able to afford to carry out sufficient work on high rises to make them safe for residents.

“Councils with a combination of ACM cladding and insulation on their high-rise blocks have already taken steps and put in measures to reassure residents about safety,” Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, commented.

“It is important that the testing process is now moving towards identifying what materials landlords should be replacing these systems with.

“We are talking to the councils affected about the costs they now face to remove and replace cladding and insulation systems on their high-rise blocks.”

The LGA chair also stated that with test fails affecting buildings owned by a range of different landlords across the country, it is clear that the current building regulation system has failed and that councils cannot afford to carry out this work.

“As a result, we remain firmly of the view that the government needs to meet the exceptional cost to councils of removing and replacing cladding and insulation on high-rise blocks,” he continued. “Councils want to ensure all residents in their local area are safe in their homes, regardless of whether they own the block or not.

“There are concerns that other landlords in some areas are not acting as quickly to inform residents about test fails and lack the urgency shown by councils to identify their buildings with the cladding and insulation systems which have failed tests so far and take steps to make them safe.”

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