Edmonton tower block’s gas supply cut over safety fears

Electric heating is being supplied to homes instead, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Walbrook House, Edmonton

Dozens of people are still living in an Edmonton tower block that has had its gas supply disconnected for safety reasons.

After the gas was cut off to Walbrook House earlier this year, Enfield Council is instead supplying the remaining 33 residents with electrical heating and insists the 23-storey building is “safe and secure”.

Walbrook House in Huntingdon Road was built in 1968 using a cut-price method which involves assembling large panels manufactured off-site. Cladding at the block was removed in 2019 because of fire safety concerns and subsequent investigations revealed the building does not meet the upper requirements of a test designed to gauge whether it could withstand an “unplanned load” such as a gas explosion. According to a council report, gas provider Cadent cut its supply to the building on 19th July.

When the problems were originally identified, the council began a programme of safety measures – initially expected to cost £14million – to reduce the risk to residents. Plans were also drawn up to connect the flats to the borough’s district heating network, and the report estimates the work could be completed by mid-2023, with a temporary electric heating and hot water system supplying some of the flats during the interim period.

But after the estimated cost of the works soared to £23m, the local authority decided to consider other options for the building, including refurbishment, demolition and redevelopment. The report states that the “projected costs suggest that over a 30-year period [the] building will cost more to maintain than the rental income generated”.

Walbrook House was previously home to 126 households. The report suggests most were rehoused by 18th July because the electrical system can only support up to 25 flats with fully electric heating and hot water. It also reveals plans to hold a consultation with residents on the building’s future.

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In response to enquiries by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, a council spokesperson said the authority had “engaged at length with all the residents at Walbrook House and responded to their calls for the building to be disused as it is no longer fit for purpose”.

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The spokesperson added: “The majority of residents have moved out of the block. Enfield Council continues to make concerted efforts to ensure all tenants and leaseholders are protected as we plan for the future of Walbrook House. The priority for Enfield Council is to ensure all our homes are safe and secure, now and in the future.

“In the first instance, the council liaised with Walbrook’s residents on their options for remaining in the block after the gas supply was disconnected. We have already provided transfers to more than 70 Walbrook households who have now settled into new homes. The current economic climate and unprecedented pressure on all council’s finances has meant we will have to look at a variety of new, viable and deliverable proposals before we conclude what options are available in the longer term, and we will discuss these with residents.

“There has been a legacy of chronic underfunding over several decades to address the renewal needs of existing homes that need significant modernisation and improvement in the borough.

“In the meantime, 33 residents remain within the building and they are being serviced with electrical heating. There was a maximum number of residents that we could accommodate with this type of heating solution. We confirm that the building is safe and secure.”

A separate report published in November reveals Shropshire House and Cheshire House, two 18-storey blocks in Edmonton also built using the large panel system, are set to have their gas supply disconnected by 23rd January 2024. Safety measures will be put in place to protect residents before the gas is switched off.

The council plans to spend £7.8m connecting these blocks to the district heating network and carrying out other refurbishment work. The report states that if the blocks are not connected to the district heating system, residents of the 204 flats would have to be moved to temporary housing “at significant cost and disruption”.

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