In the Media

Coroner refers Leeds tower block 'wind tunnel' death to Crown Prosecutors

PUBLISHED February 16, 2012

Concern about pre-construction wind-effect tests spreads, with the Leeds incident alarming residents in Vauxhall, London, where a group of 10 tower blocks is planned

Here's the second of today's follow-up stories, after the earlier post on York and its tourist tax developments.

Just under a year ago, the Northerner reported on concern about the 'wind tunnel' effect of tall buildings, following the death of a man in Leeds close to Bridgewater Place, the city's highest tower.

Now the case has come to the Coroner's court, to ascertain how and why 35-year-old Edward Slaney, of Sowerby Bridge in Calderdale, was crushed under a lorry which was apparently blown over during severe gusting.

The driver, Paul Bartle, gave graphic evidence to the hearing in Leeds:

I was doing about 20mph, the next thing I remember is I'm on my side. I floated through the air. It just carried me - it was just like a hot-air balloon going up.

The inquest hasn't reached a verdict as the evidence convinced Coroner Melanie Williamson that there might be grounds for corporate manslaughter charges. She has adjourned her court and referred the case to the Crown Prosecution Service after hearing that 16 complaints had been made to Leeds city council before the tragedy. They all cited alarmingly strong gusts around the tower ? nick-named the Dalek because of its shape.

She said:

I'm concerned having heard all the evidence there may be an offence of corporate manslaughter by one or more of the organisations. I'm obliged to adjourn this inquest pending further inquiries by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Our previous story described worries about 'wind tests' carried out before the building of urban towers, which do not always seem to anticipate their effect. Inter alia, the story said:

The front doors leading to Bridgewater Place's ground floor even have to be locked against the wind on occasions, and 13ft high windbreaks are being considered. Leeds' windy-city reputation is a lot older than that, mind. I've played boules in Bond Court, surrounded by tower blocks, in conditions which made throwing the heavy metal balls a lottery. And I'm even old enough to remember being blown through the Merrion Centre as an excited teenager ("Our very first mall, wow") before they roofed its passageway over.

It emerged at the inquest that 'wind tests' had been carried out in 2001 before Bridgewater Place was built, but the building was moved two metres prior to construction. A second series of tests was carried out in 2008, after it had been completed.

Among repercussions of this has been concern in Vauxhall, the inner London site of the capital's famous 18th-century pleasure gardens, where I am glad to say that the Northerner is read. Brian Vos of Vauxhall Civic Society emails about a 'cluster' of very high buildings and the nature of the 'wind tests' carried out for them:

You have raised very important questions, which is much appreciated, especially with regard to the testing that building designs are subjected to and the presentation of the wind assessment reports accompanying the planning applications.

I feel you should reopen the blog article for comment, or publish an update perhaps, as it is highly appropriate to what is going on more generally in the realm of planning in the UK.

In Vauxhall, central London, a large regeneration and redevelopment project is under way via the policy of the Mayor of London, referred to as the London Plan, that began life when Ken Livingstone was Mayor. The plan proposes high density, high-rise buildings in a 'cluster' of up to 10 'skyscrapers', as the way forward for the area.

As a resident of Vauxhall, I have been researching the way in which the planning process does not consider the broader influence that a tall building (or the combined effect of a group of tall buildings) has on the wind and the resulting impact on the extended area, the downwind wake, of a development.

He then questions wind tunnels' use of average speeds and duration thresholds as risking the under-estimation of peak gusts; the extent of distance covered by the tests and the possibility that 'wind wake' effects - the turbulence caused downwind of towers - are not properly accounted for.

He adds two interesting links, here and here.

We can't reopen the old blog for comments, but there's plenty of room on this one. Please tell us if you have, or have had, similar experiences or concerns.

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