Many of our older apartment blocks were not built to last

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 March, 2009, 12:00am

Much is being written and talked about urban renewal and revitalisation, and some say that buildings are not old at 50. Maybe that is true elsewhere.

It is as well to remind ourselves that the concrete in the buildings that were built in those far-off days used sand taken by the Sand Monopoly from the beaches of Mirs Bay in the mainland, which was then washed on construction sites with poor supervision when we were short of water, which had also to be paid for.

The condition of the concrete and steel in many of those buildings is far from ideal, to say the least. Moreover the rows of buildings, along narrow streets for the most part, had so-called verandahs. The utilities were at the back.

No sooner had the buildings been erected than the owners connected the verandah below to the one above and joined the two together, thus obstructing the air flow to the back.

At the back of the building was a so-called light-well. The windows were closed and it quickly became a dark hole. Most of the buildings at about that time were nine storeys high with single frontage.

The access was a winding, narrow staircase right to the top floor.

Lifts were unknown to them and it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to install them now. Even if you could put in a lift you would still need a staircase.

We can patch them up; give them a few more years of habitable life because there is no alternative. But let's not kid ourselves, they will have to go or alternatively the best of them - provided the problem of the surrounding environment of narrow airless streets can also be addressed - could be emptied of residents and be given a complete renovation.

These are the buildings in which are found the cages and cubicles for thousands of our citizens.

I write from experience, having visited them over the 50 years of their lives and mine.

David Akers-Jones, Mid-Levels