No Lessons Learned Following Ronan Point
Wednesday 16th May 2018 will mark 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.
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.
Biart Place, Rugby
On 25th April 2018, the BBC published an article about Biart Estate in Rugby. These blocks are also being decanted with immediate effect. See the article here. Although these are also Large Panel System blocks, they are of a different form of construction. These are 'Bison' blocks, which raises concerns as to whether these problems exist in other forms of Large Panel construction, not limited to the Taylor Woodrow Anglian Larsen-Nielsen type design.
Clearly, this is now a situation of national proportions which requires an immediate response, and funding, from central Government.
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 building 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.
The examples above are not an exhaustive list of these types of block, and we continue to gather information on what is happening on other tower block estates and will update this page accordingly.