Taking Down the Tower Blocks and Rebuilding

A Damning Report

In August 1994 the Council's Chief Executive commissioned John Barratt to investigate Westminster's management of the Points between 1982 and 1991. His 642 page report was published in March 1996. It documented how it was only thanks to an intense campaign by WECH, which attracted national media coverage, that in August 1990 the Council finally accepted the Points  tower blocks were not safe and moved the residents out.

"The homeless families, newcomers to the Points, were given no information or advice about the asbestos materials for at least several months despite internal concern that information should be given. When information was given, the assurance of safety was extravagant." (Report para 7.167).

Commenting on the Barratt report the Daily Mail said,

 "The way these tenants were treated under this 'flagship Conservative council' reads, by any standards, like a towering disgrace."

In an attempt to overcome a shortage of labour, Hermes and Chantry Points had been constructed in 1968 by a consortium, led by the GLC and including a fibre glass manufacturer and a steel company. The blocks were 22 storeys high and had 101 flats in each This ground-breaking prototype employed a steel frame construction.

Each panel was made up of chipboard sandwiched between asbestos cement. The steel columns at the back were coated with sprayed asbestos. To provide fire protection the frame was coated in sprayed asbestos and asbestos was used extensively for the internal construction of the flats. Hermes and Chantry Points contained over 20 miles of deadly sprayed asbestos and huge quantities of asbestos cement. The sprayed asbestos was boxed in by asbestos board and was not airtight. The heating system operated by circulating air around the flats in the duct work, so that asbestos fibres circulated around people's homes.

Only two other blocks of the same type were ever built at Watney Market in Wapping East London. After a successful fight by local residents one of these blocks was demolished in 1993, while the other was stripped back to the steel frame and concrete floors and then cladded with brick.

WECH inherited Chantry and Hermes Points in a totally empty condition. The cost of asbestos removal and the renewal of all internal walls, external cladding, lifts, fixtures and fittings, and the high management costs, would have made the blocks too expensive to run. The residents agreed that the tower blocks should go. Demolition was expensive as it had to be done under negative pressure so that the dangerous asbestos fibres were contained and not scattered. Workers in 'space suits' with breathing apparatus had to remove the asbestos panels and strip the sprayed asbestos from the steel joists. With the asbestos cleared, the steel structure was removed by crane, floor by floor, and low-rise blocks with pitched roofs built in their place.

The low-rise blocks built in the 1960s had been built with flat roofs which were cheaper at the time but meant that, after a few years the roofs leaked. Pitched roofs were built on these as well and the flats thoroughly overhauled.


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Updated January 23, 2011