The Ledbury Estate towers consultation is now complete. Residents have voted for no demolition. The preferred choice, leading by a significant majority was 'Option B' - high level refurbishment to the four towers, with some infill new build homes on the estate to help fund the works, with 50% of those new builds being for social rent.
The refurbishment works are set to include the following:
- Permanent fire stopping
- Any fire risk assessment works required
- Installation of a sprinkler system
- Structural reinforcement works to all affected areas
- New kitchens, bathrooms and WCs
- Making good cracks/gaps between external wall panels and intermediate cross-wall panels
- Heating and electrical remedial works
- Communal TV System
- Renewal of all service pipes, waterproofing to kitchens, WC and bathroom floor
- Renewal of existing soil stacks and renewal of communal cold water tanks
- Improvements to ventilation to stairways and landings
- Renew existing lifts and improve lighting to stairways and communal areas
- Improved insulation to flats and communal areas
- Repair/renew key building components such as roofs and windows
- Improve water pressure to upper floors
- Communal satellite and broadband
In a meeting with Southwark officers on 25th September, the proposed structural strengthening project designed by ARUP engineers was discussed. Officers explained that a 'pilot' would be carried out in a couple of flats within the Bromyard House tower first, with the works being undertaken by Engie/Keepmoat. Officers also stated that 'Building Control will be all over this.' Unsurprising, as this proposed method of strengthening, by ARUP's own admission, was new, unprecedented, and likely to attract a lot of attention from those in the building industry.
The future of the Ledbury Estate tower blocks now rests on the outcome of the pilot tests, to see if the strengthening and fire stopping proposals will work, and to observe how the building behaves under these new conditions. The proposed strengthening solution involves fixing strips of metal every few feet to internal walls and floors, effectively to bolt everything together tightly. At this time, it is not known how this may affect the natural thermal seasonal expansion and contraction movements of the large panels themselves, something that will undoubtedly be assessed as part of the pilot.
Cabinet Member for Housing Cllr Stephanie Cryan met with the Ledbury Estate Resident Project Board on Wednesday 3rd October and confirmed that the report to Cabinet will recommend that Option B be formally agreed. It is unclear when building work might commence, but it is likely to take some years until completion.
In other Large Panel System news - the BBC Newsnight episode of 15th June 2018: 'Ronan Point: A 50 year Building Safety Problem' said: 'Newnight has learned a building in London, already slated for demolition, is going to be examined, as it's taken down (by the BRE) to see how badly built it was, that may inform what comes next.'
The location of the building 'slated for demolition' has not been revealed publicly. It's not clear yet whether or not the findings of this investigation will have any bearing on the design or refurbishment of the Ledbury blocks, or whether Southwark will be awaiting the results of this examination before proceeding with the strengthening works to the Ledbury towers.
It appears, at present, that Southwark are planning to follow the residents wishes and refurbish the Ledbury towers. Many Ledbury residents are feeling pleased and relieved to learn that the Ledbury towers will be saved and that they'll have the opportunity to return in the future.
Some Large Panel System experts say that strengthening and permanent fire stopping simply isn't possible and won't work, and that Southwark must already know this. Other experts say it is possible.
For residents, the end is not yet in sight and the final conclusion to this contentious puzzle, of course, now all rests on the success of the pilot, which will undoubtedly have a bearing on Large Panel blocks up and down the country.