Ronan Point

30th April 2004 at 01:00
arly one morning in May 1968, Ivy Hodge went into the kitchen to make herself a cuppa. She put the kettle on her gas cooker and struck a match, and was instantly blown into the next room.

A straightforward gas explosion - regrettable, but hardly unique? By all means, had the kitchen not been situated on the 18th floor of a 23-storey block of flats. And not just any block, but one that had been cheaply and rather too hastily slotted together out of precast concrete panels.

"A house of cards" was how the newspapers described Ronan Point, one of several "system-built" tower blocks that had just appeared in the newly created London borough of Newham. And for once, no one could accuse the press of exaggerating.

For such was the design of the structure that when the blast blew away the outer walls of Mrs Hodge's kitchen, sending them crashing to the ground, floor and wall sections above and below them also collapsed.

Within seconds, the entire south-east corner of the 65-metre high tower was reduced to rubble. Although Mrs Hodge survived, four other occupants lay dead - a figure which would have been much higher had most tenants not still been in bedrooms, a distance away from the collapsed section.

As the dust settled, an investigation began into how one match could have caused such a calamity. And the answers made uncomfortable reading for those who saw "homes in the sky" as a cheap answer to the post-war housing crisis.

Using the "Larsen-Neilsen" building system, Ronan Point had provided 110 one and two-bedroom flats for just pound;500,000.

But while the system should have entailed the bolting and cementing together of all the precast panels, quality control had been lacking at Ronan Point. An architect inspecting the stricken tower after the disaster found that many of the joints contained not cement but newspaper. It was, without doubt, the beginning of the end of the high-rise dream. Ronan Point was rebuilt and reinforced, but demolished in 1986, along with other high-rise blocks. In its place, there now stands an estate of two-storey terraces.

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