Sheffield tower blocks do not have structural surveys as it’s too expensive, says council

Structural checks are not carried out on Sheffield tower blocks as it is too expensive – prompting criticism from a former councillor who lives in one of them.

Wednesday, 23rd March 2022, 11:00 am

Sheffield Council says the last time its tower blocks had external structural safety checks was before cladding was fitted – in some cases, 25 years ago.

Former councillor Peter MacLoughin, who has lived in a Netherthorpe tower block for 34 years, recently caught on camera Supertram crunching into a sheet of metal.

The council said it was investigating how the panel became loose in high winds and blew onto the tram tracks.

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Former councillor Peter MacLoughlin has accused Sheffield Council of ignoring problems with tower block structures. He has lived in a Netherthorpe block for 34 years.

A Freedom of Information request has found the council does not check tower block concrete on a regular basis unless there are internal signs, such as cracked walls.

The FOI said: “In terms of structural safety checks, these would have been carried out prior to the blocks receiving external cladding.

“The rainscreen cladding effectively protects the structure from the elements. Any inspections on the structures would have taken place prior to external cladding installation.

“The best way to inspect the concrete structure would be to remove a couple of panels at various heights externally and investigate the concrete.

Former councillor Peter MacLoughlin says Sheffield Council tower blocks should have regular structural checks. He lives on the 14th floor of a Netherthorpe block

“Unless damage was observed internally, there would be little external evidence to prompt carrying out an inspection. Internal cracking should always be inspected.

“The costs involved and difficulty in accessing the external parts of the frame would be prohibitive to undertaking regular structural surveys.

“However, it would be reasonable to undertake an inspection 25 to 30 years after the cladding works were completed to check for defects.”

The council makes an exception if cladding is damaged in severe weather or by building movement.

‘Council ignoring problem’, says councillor

Mr MacLoughlin, who lives on the 14th floor, said: “I don’t know whether to be shocked or disappointed.

“It sounds like the council waits for visible signs of structural problems before reacting, instead of being proactive.

“They say there’s ‘no requirement to check’, implying they would only do this if there was a statutory obligation, rather than acting as a responsible landlord.

“The cladding was fitted in about 1997 and the council says it ‘would be reasonable’ to inspect for defects after 25 years but there’s no clear commitment or plan to do this.

“Over the years, some tenants have caused damage to the cladding and the building structure by fixing satellite dishes and other work. It sounds like the council is ignoring this problem.”

Tower block checks

Fire safety legislation requires external cladding and structure are considered as part of annual fire risk assessments.

There’s no routine inspection of TV aerials or satellite dishes but the council does respond to repair calls about communal systems.

Lightning conductors are serviced annually. Automatic opening vents are tested as part of the fire alarm servicing every three months.

All boiler houses are serviced twice a year and each individual property receives an annual safety check from engineers. There is safety and servicing on heating equipment and pipework.

Windows are inspected on an individual basis if tenants report repairs. Communal area windows have health and safety checks every six to eight weeks.