Residents remain living in ‘unsafe’ towers on Edmonton estate

Cheshire House and Shropshire House had their gas supplies switched off a year ago and are set to be demolished but residents are still awaiting alternative accommodation, reports James Cracknell

Shropshire House (left) and Cheshire House (right) could both be demolished
Shropshire House (left) and Cheshire House (right)

More than 100 families continue to live in tower blocks on an Edmonton estate over a year after they were found to be structurally unsound – with several residents telling the Dispatch they feel “unsafe” living there.

Enfield Council has been urged to speed up the evacuation of residents from Cheshire House and Shropshire House on Shires Estate, which both had their gas supplies cut last winter after they were found at risk of collapse in the event of an explosion.

The news even made national headlines in December 2022 when Cheshire House residents were forced to shower in outdoor cubicles during freezing weather, as the council scrambled to install an alternative hot water system.

Three-quarters of residents living in the two towers voted to leave last March but, as of November, 132 out of the 204 flats in total remained occupied. The council says 95 offers of alternative accommodation have now been accepted.

Speaking to the Dispatch, residents voiced their frustrations with the length of time it was taking the council to arrange new accommodation, the conditions of the blocks, and the inflated cost of heating their homes using electric heaters.

Abdirahim Abdillihi, who lives in Cheshire House, said living there was “scary”, while a resident of Shropshire House said: “They told us it was unsafe, but we are still living here.”

When the Dispatch visited, signs were visible inside both towers which warned residents that “gas canisters may not be used or kept in this building”.

A survey of Shropshire House prepared by consultancy firm Ridge in May 2022, which has been seen by the Dispatch, concluded: “The re-assessment of the blocks has shown that, even with the piped-gas supply stripped from the building, they remain insufficiently robust to resist disproportionate collapse.”

Residents of a Bristol tower block were evacuated immediately in November when the building was found to be structurally unsound. The opposition Conservative group’s housing spokesperson questioned why similarly swift action wasn’t taken at Shires Estate. Lee Chamberlain said: “It can’t be allowed to drag on. These blocks are ultimately unsafe. In the structural integrity report, the buildings fail on almost every count. It makes for horrific reading.

“The risk is small but it is a risk – in Bristol they evacuated everyone immediately.”

The council says the Bristol issue is “not comparable”.

Flats sealed off inside Shropshire House
Flats sealed off inside Shropshire House

Several Shires Estate residents also complained that the cost of heating their flats has “doubled” since the gas was switched off last winter, but the council had not given them enough to cover it.

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Cllr Chamberlain submitted an urgent motion on Shires Estate at November’s full council meeting, but it was rejected for debate. He pointed out that the Labour administration’s original intention was to connect the towers to its district heating network, Energetik, rather than decommission them.

“We had to drag them kicking and screaming to the position we are at now. They have had their head in the sand on this.”

However, the Regulator of Social Housing ruled the council’s actions over Shires Estate “did not demonstrate a wider failure to meet our standards”.

The council is now offering tenants in the two blocks alternative properties and buying back leasehold flats.

At the nearby Meridian Water redevelopment, the first residents moved in last September, but one Shropshire House tenant said she’d been forced to reject an offer of housing there because it would raise her rent from £104 per week to £185.

Signs inside the blocks warn residents not to keep gas canisters
Signs inside the blocks warn residents not to keep gas canisters

The latest stats show the council has met only 75% of its three-year housing target. Cllr Chamberlain added: “The council is now struggling to re-home people because it’s failed year-on-year to develop the housing we need.”

A council spokesperson said: “Enfield Council has been working hard to decant the blocks as soon as possible by matching tenants with new homes that meet their needs.

“So far, 194 offers have been made, and we continue to support residents who remain. We have been offering considerable financial support to cover bills, which last month was a £445.30 payment per household. In addition, rehousing teams are on site to offer advice.

“We’ve always prioritised the safety of residents. The [structural integrity] report in May last year was immediately discussed with the gas supplier and an agreed route to replace the heating system was agreed. However, a gas leak was discovered in November [2022] which prompted the disconnection of Cheshire House – this changed the council’s plans.

“The Shires blocks differ from the tower in Bristol and are not comparable.”

Regarding Cllr Chamberlain’s motion, the spokesperson said it was “rejected by the mayor of Enfield because it wasn’t submitted by the deadline” and the issue had been discussed at three prior meetings.

Edmonton MP Kate Osamor has urged the council to move faster on the evacuation and said Shires Estate residents should not have faced “another Christmas in housing which is neither suitable nor safe”.

The Labour MP added: “It is disappointing that the evacuation of Cheshire House and Shropshire House has not been completed. Having heard from constituents who remain in the blocks it’s clear conditions have deteriorated.”

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