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Holloway towers’ residents ‘don’t feel safe’ during building work

Call for more structural tests on flats built using ‘house of cards’ method

25 October, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Anna Lowe – not her real name – at the Harvist estate

TERRIFIED residents have asked the Town Hall for further structural tests on their homes to ensure they are safe during building works yards from their front doors.

A group of residents living on the council-owned Harvist estate, Holloway, which is made up of four 18-storey blocks, say they worry the method used to build their homes back in the 1960s will not withstand the vibrations from building works nearby.

“I do not feel particularly safe living here,” said estate resident Anna Lowe.

“And no, I’m not convinced by the tests the council have done so far. They have to test several flats and several blocks for us to feel safe,” she added.

The Harvist estate was built using the large panel system (LPS), a building method that has been compared by housing expert Sam Webb to a “house of cards” because of how structurally fragile they are. The use of gas in the estate was stopped in the 1960s over fears it could cause the building to collapse if there was an explosion because of the building method.

The method saw concrete panels stacked on top of each other by often low-skilled workers, and held together by bolts.

Ms Lowe, who is part of an action group on the estate which is trying to get further tests from the council, said: “My general feeling is that the council has not taken residents’ viewpoints into consider­ation. It seems there’s a push from the Mayor of London for Islington to build new houses and they are not taking the safety of existing residents into consideration to achieve this.”

The Town Hall surveyed the borough’s 20 LPS buildings following recommenda­tions from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government last year. A report on the Harvist estate by structural engineering firm Conisbee seen by the Tribune following a Freedom of Information request said that their engineers believed that the estate had been “assessed and streng­thened” to comply with building regulations and no further investigations are necessary.

But Ms Lowe said she is not convinced and “doesn’t understand why” the council doesn’t get a second opinion. She said she was “unhappy” that the engineers had only opened up one flat to assess the structure of the entire estate.

“It’s our lives at risk, she said. “We need our existing homes improved and made 100 per cent safe before the council build new ones.”

The council executive have already approved the construction of 24 new homes on the estate.

Mr Webb, an architect who gave evidence at the public inquiry on the dangers of LPS homes following the partial collapse of Ronan Point, Newham, in 1968, told the Tribune: “I have investigated many large panel system buildings over a period of over 50 years. Nothing anyone says about these buildings being safe can ever be taken at face value.”

Islington housing chief Councillor Diarmaid Ward said the council had al­ready commissioned “a comprehensive, inde­pendent review”, adding it was done “by structural engineering consultants who are experts in their field – they broke open floors, ceilings and walls to satisfy themselves that the necessary steelwork was present”.

He added: “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. We have shared Conisbee’s report with the tenants’ and residents’ association and are happy to share it with anyone else.

“We’re committed to listening to and working with residents on any concerns they have, and are happy to meet and discuss this further.”

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