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New safety fears over demolition of Red Road flats

FEARS have been raised about the safety of demolishing five Red Road tower blocks as part of the Glasgow 2014 opening ceremony after it emerged that a previous "blowdown" at the site sent debris flying well beyond the exclusion zone.

The Sunday Herald has been passed evidence of a hole in the wall of a property hundreds of yards from where part of the Red Road estate was brought down in a controlled explosion in May last year.

It comes days after the controversial announcement that five of the six remaining Red Road tower blocks would be blown up as a curtain-raiser to the Commonwealth Games.

The block of flats that was hit by the masonry was in Provanmill, north Glasgow - more than 700 yards from the demolition site and hundreds of yards from the perimeter of the exclusion zone.

However, shortly after the spectacle, resident Anne Booth noticed that an area of cladding "around the size of two fists" appeared to have been knocked out of the side of the building she lived in.

Booth, who has lived at the Glasgow Housing Association-owned property for 17 years, said the damage was located around six feet from her flat window.

"I noticed there was a hole in the building and the reply I got from GHA was that it was a piece of flying debris which must have struck the wall," said Booth.

"They told me that it would be fixed free of charge, like they were doing us a favour. But we were outwith the exclusion zone - it should have been safe. There were children outside playing - and it could have come through my window instead. I have been in ill-health so I thought at the time 'I'll just leave it, I've notified GHA, I've done what I'm supposed to'.

"But when I heard five blocks were going to be demolished I had to speak out. If that's the damage that can be caused with one blowdown, then what's going to happen with five? It's not safe, and it's crass."

Booth, 68, contacted her local MSP Patricia Ferguson to raise her concerns.

In a letter from Your Place, the factoring arm of GHA, dated September 13, Ferguson was informed: "During a recent demolition ... a piece of flying debris hit the rear of Ms Booth's property. This damage was corrected at GHA expense. The repair has been post inspected and is of a good quality."

Like the five Red Road tower blocks earmarked for demolition during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, the tower block demolished last year was also owned by GHA. The housing association oversaw its demolition and will also be responsible for organising the massive Red Road blowdown in July.

GHA has contracted Dundee-based demolition experts, Safedem, to carry out the work: the same firm brought down the tower block on May 5 last year.

Ferguson said she was seeking assurances from GHA that stringent safety measures would be in place to ensure residents are protected.

She said: "In light of the announcement about the five towers, I will be holding talks with GHA and the 2014 Organising Committee to ensure that my constituents are not put in any danger."

Sean Clerkin, chairman of the Glasgow Homeowners' Campaign, which represents owners in GHA-managed properties, said the incident was alarming.

"Last year there was a serious breach of health and safety that was unacceptable. Somebody could have been killed. I would urge GHA and the people in charge of the demolition to greatly improve their health and safety before the Games, because somebody could die.

"I also believe the demolition of these tower blocks for entertainment purposes is degrading and tasteless. It should be done in a more dignified fashion."

The revelation comes 20 years after Glasgow grandmother Helen Tilley was fatally injured by a piece of masonry that hurtled 50 yards beyond a 120-metre exclusion zone around Queen Elizabeth Square in the Gorbals.

The 61-year-old was among a crowd of spectators in September 1993 who had been encouraged to watch a 22-storey tower block come down.

However, she was hit by jagged lumps of concrete that struck her in the head and neck. Other spectators were injured.

At a subsequent fatal accident inquiry, Michael Perkin, managing director of Wreckers of Johannesburg - the firm that had conducted the demolition - said it was unexplained and inexplicable that debris could have been thrown out so far.

David Fletcher, director of regeneration at the Wheatley Group, GHA's parent company, said: "Safety is paramount in all our demolitions and this one will be no different in that regard.

"Our demolition contractor, Safedem, will put in place a wide range of measures on each block to contain the blast and minimise any flying debris.

"We'll also set up a large exclusion zone around the blocks to provide further protection."

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