An estimated 100,000 people in the UK live in high-rise apartment buildings (known in the UK as tower blocks) that have a common structural flaw, which could lead to their collapse, the Independent reported on Sunday.
These residential buildings were built using the Large Panel System (LPS) method during the 1960s and 1970s; the construction method led to cracks which are sometimes wide enough for residents to be able to slide their hands between the walls. Such cracks could precipitate the collapse of entire buildings in the event of a fire or gas explosion, such as the one that led to the partial collapse of the 22-story Ronan Point tower block in 1968.
Documents obtained by the Independent show at least 575 tower blocks, including two in London, which were built using the LPS method and are potentially at risk.
“This is an even bigger issue than Grenfell because more tower blocks are affected by these structural problems than by cladding problems,” said Sam Webb, a retired architect who is the co-founder of Tower Blocks UK – the campaign calling for the safety inspections of the high rises.
“The government needs to take responsibility for this as a matter of urgency,” he added.
“It’s like a house of cards,” said Arnold Tarling, a building surveyor who has examined LPS tower blocks across London, noting that strengthening work isn’t an option, as the buildings' flaws are “fundamental”. Other researchers agreed with him, saying all 575 blocks are in such a state that it would only take a fire to lead to their total collapse.
Local authorities said they hold no information about LPS tower blocks, meaning it is impossible to say whether they had been repaired in the last 50 years. A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government told The Independent that the department held its first “forum” to discuss the LPS tower block problem with local authority representatives only last week, without specifying if any decisions had been agreed upon.
The problem of high-rise safety re-entered the public conscience when the Grenfell Tower blaze happened on June 14, 2017, leaving 72 dead. The fire was especially hard to put out due to the cracks and spaces between the panel blocks, which allowed the inferno to engulf the building before residents could escape.