The independent London newspaper

‘Estate made of concrete panels is safe’

Holloway estate residents fear ‘house of cards’ towers are at risk of collapsing

12 February, 2021 — By Helen Chapman

The Harvist estate in Holloway

RESIDENTS on a Holloway estate remain fearful that it is at risk of collapse and are worried about the vibrations from new building works.

Campaigners had planned a march to the Town Hall last year to demand structural tests at the 20 tower blocks in the borough which they say could be at risk of falling due to the building materials used in their construction.

The protest was put on hold due to the Covid pandemic but people living on the Harvist estate say plans to start building more homes there have made the issue more urgent.

There are concerns around the impact of the excavation work on the building’s “Large Panel System” (LPS) structure.

LPS buildings – in which concrete panels were stacked on top of each other and held together by bolts – have been compared by some experts to a “house of cards” due to their structural fragility.

The Harvist Estate Action Group (HEAG) has gathered a petition signed by 300 of the estate’s 500 residents, opposing the new work.

Islington wants to add 24 new social housing homes on the site.

In 2018 the Town Hall used structural engineering firm Conisbee to survey the borough’s 20 LPS buildings following recommendations from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Conisbee’s report on the four-block Harvist estate said engineers believed it had been “assessed and strengthened” to comply with building regulations.

But independent housing researcher and HEAG supporter Hannah Brack, who has investigated the use of LPS blocks across the UK, has called for all those in the borough to be inspected again.

She said: “Conisbee relies too heavily on historical structural reports. Plans offered the building stiffness but not strength.”

One resident, who did not want to be named, currently living in Harvist estate, said: “The noise is insane. Everyone is legally supposed to stay at home. There will be a mental health crisis if this goes on.”

The LPS method was found to be at fault in the 1968 Ronan Point disaster, when a gas explosion caused the corner of a tower block in Canning Town, east London, to collapse under the pressure, killing four people.

Gas has been banned from some LPS blocks since then, including at the Harvist estate, and strengthening work took place in the intervening decades to shore it up.

Housing chief Councillor Diarmaid Ward said the review had been carried out by “experts in their field”, adding: “They broke open floors, ceilings and walls to satisfy themselves that the necessary steelwork was present Conisbee’s un­equivocal, independent professional advice is that the buildings are structurally sound and safe to live in, and we have full confidence in their findings.”

He added: “We’re sorry to hear that some residents have concerns about the upcoming work on the site, and we sympathise with them. We’re committed to listening to residents, and would be more than happy to discuss this further with them to allay any concerns they may have.”

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