HUNDREDS of families living in two of Portsmouth’s biggest tower blocks are today being told they will have to move out of their homes amid fresh safety fears.
About 800 people living at both Horatia House and Leamington House, in Somers Town, are being told the shock news by Portsmouth City Council this morning, The News can exclusively reveal.
It comes after structural reports on both the buildings unveiled weaknesses in the concrete used to construct them, casting doubts over the high-rises’ ability to absorb shock from a major incident like a gas explosion.
Council officials have said vital work will need to be carried out on both the tower blocks, which were built in 1965, and expect this to take place in spring 2019.
However, in order to do this the authority has to undertake an unprecedented relocation project, finding new homes for residents currently living across the 272 flats.
Portsmouth City Council boss Gerald Vernon-Jackson is confident residents are in no immediate danger and added no other blocks in the city had been affected by the concrete weaknesses.
While the council insisted a gas explosion in the blocks was ‘unlikely’ as neither had a mains gas supply and residents weren’t allowed items such as gas heaters.
But Cllr Vernon-Jackson added: ‘There is a risk, a limited risk, but we have to take it seriously.
‘The quality of the concrete in the major slabs they were built up in 50 years ago is not as strong as it should be.
‘There’s no immediate risk and people have lived in here for 50 years. But there is a risk if there was a gas explosion.
‘We need to rectify the problem and make sure that both blocks could withstand an explosion and that they’re strengthened.
‘For that reason we will be telling people that between now and next spring we will gradually be moving people out of those two blocks.’
The council has been working on a plan of action since March, when they were alerted to the structural issue.
It would see the replacement of the current concrete screed – the top layer of material used to cover the flooring – with a stronger version.
Concerns came to light in a study on the buildings after flammable cladding was removed following the Grenfell fire disaster.
Officers are now faced with the daunting challenge of rehousing families in a major upgrade programme that could take about two years.
Housing chiefs have said 70 properties in Somers Town were being earmarked for residents to move into.
But at this point, there are not enough free homes across the city for people to move into immediately.
However, James Hill – the council’s director of housing, neighbourhood and building services – said he was ‘confident’ the authority could find new homes for residents ‘within the city’, based on a ‘predictable’ flow of people moving out of council-owned properties.
He said: ‘This is a major refurbishment scheme.
‘The scale of the works required, strengthening, recladding, potentially the installation of sprinklers – it’s quite a package of works.’
Every resident will be offered a new home on a permanent basis.
Those wishing to return to the flats after the refurbishment would be given priority over new tenants.
Contingencies are in place for residents who are uncomfortable to remain in the building and want to leave immediately.
Concerned residents can visit their area housing office, at the Somers Town Community Hub. A 24-hour helpline has been set up and is available on 023 9284 1311.
Alternatively, search ‘tower blocks’ at portsmouth.gov.uk