Third Edmonton tower block set for gas switch-off over safety fears

Council plans to cut gas at Shropshire House brought forward to this month over growing fears for safety of residents, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Shropshire House (credit Google)
Shropshire House (credit Google)

Enfield Council has brought forward plans to switch off the gas supply to an Edmonton tower block that failed structural safety tests.

Shropshire House, an 18-storey block on the Shires Estate, is set to have its gas supply switched off by the end of this month after the council dropped controversial plans to wait a whole year before cutting the supply.

Built during the 1960s using the ‘large panel system’ – a cut-price construction method which involved assembling large panels manufactured off-site – the block was deemed to be at risk of collapse in the event of an internal gas explosion after failing tests carried out in response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Following the tests, gas distributor Cadent told the civic centre the supply to the block would be cut off on 27th June this year. But the company later agreed to extend the date to 23rd January 2024 to allow the building to be connected to the council-owned Energetik heat network, which is supplied by energy from the Edmonton incinerator.

Work to connect the block to the heat network would have been eligible for up to £1.2m of grant funding from the energy contractor under a government-backed scheme.

However, a council spokesperson has now told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the authority had instead decided to install electrical heating and boilers at Shropshire House, meaning the gas supply will be cut off by the end of February, providing the works go to plan.

Cheshire House, another 18-storey block on the estate, was also due to have its gas supply turned off in January 2024 after it failed structural safety tests, but the supply had to be switched off urgently in November after a leak was discovered. It led to residents being forced to wash in outdoor shower blocks during December’s cold snap.

The council’s approach to building safety issues on Shires Estate has been slammed by Conservative councillor Lee Chamberlain, who is shadow cabinet member for housing.

Last week, Cllr Chamberlain tabled an urgent motion to a meeting of the full council calling for an emergency to be declared “with immediate action to make the Shropshire House block safe”. His motion accused the council of “taking a path designed to save money” by waiting to connect the block to the heat network.

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Cllr Chamberlain said the motion was “blocked from publication by council officers over concerns its debate might lead to the council being sued”. A council spokesperson said the motion was declined “because it did not meet the requirements for an emergency motion, as outlined in the council’s constitution”.

An extraordinary council meeting has now been scheduled for 23rd February, which includes a motion on Shropshire House tabled by Cllr Chamberlain calling for cabinet member for social housing George Savva to apologise for a range of issues, including “not treating the gas replacement as an emergency and making the risks clear to residents” and to resign from his position.

Cllr Chamberlain claims the council has not yet completed the installation of gas safety sensors meant to reduce risk and calls for “full support” for residents “having to pay for expensive stop-gap electrical services”.

Edmonton MP Kate Osamor has also criticised the council’s actions, saying: “Many residents on the Shires Estate feel like the council is prioritising its balance sheet over tenants’ safety. That is a clear indication that a new approach to this problem is needed.

“It’s vital that the council begins communicating more effectively with residents about what has happened, and what is going to happen.”

Kate said she had asked the council to look into a package of compensation and rent relief for affected tenants.

A council spokesperson said: “The priority for Enfield Council is to ensure all our homes are safe and secure. We have made good progress at Shropshire House. Electric boilers are being installed, and when this is completed we will be able to disconnect the gas. This is scheduled for the end of February. We have engaged with all residents within the building and they have been kept informed of developments every step of the way.

“Cadent Gas assessed the building in January as part of our monthly ongoing monitoring regime, and they found no immediate reason to urgently switch off the gas.”

The problems with gas supplies at Edmonton tower blocks also extends to Walbrook House in Huntingdon Road, which was the first to have its supply cut last year. In January, LDRS revealed the worsening conditions for residents in the block.

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