THIS is the moment the first of the Larner Road tower blocks was knocked down after dominating the Erith skyline for 40 years.

Two hundred people looked on as a high-rise excavator known as a nibbler began the lengthy process of reducing 15-storey Pretoria House to a pile of rubble, following a ceremonial toast on Friday morning.

Long-time resident Rita Hanfrey read an extract from Luke Wright’s poem The Ballad of Larner Road as the orange crane set to work.

At midday, it was revealed the £120m redeveloped community that will be based on the Larner Road site will be known as Erith Park.

Deputy Mayor of London for housing, land and property Richard Blakeway said: “This is a hugely symbolic and important moment in the story of the Larner Road Estate, which finally begins what I’m sure will be a fantastic transformation into a thriving, new community.

“By building hundreds of well-designed affordable homes and boosting jobs in London’s construction industry it is precisely the kind of major regeneration project that the Mayor is keen to support.”

A family fun day helped to draw in the crowds, many of whom were families enjoying the Easter holidays.

Live performances from acrobat troupe the Black Eagles and live Zulu music from the Majuba Drummers were among the attractions that kept spectators entertained.

The first flat to be demolished belonged to Larner Road resident Rosemary White.

She said: “I’ve lived at Larner Road for half my life and seeing the demolition crane starting to tear it down was very emotional.”

The second block to be knocked down will be Medina, followed by Hamlet, Norvic and finally Verona House.

Orbit South estimate it will take around five weeks for Pretoria House to be cleared.

Executive director Orbit Living Vivien Knibb said: “We recognise this may be an emotional time for local residents, we are excited to move forward with the demolition so that construction on the new homes can begin.

“Erith Park is going to be a great community with new streets and gardens where local people will want to live and a public green space for everyone to enjoy.”

All five of the tower blocks will eventually be demolished and replaced with more than 600 low-rise homes.

The first new home is due to be ready early in 2015 and the whole project is expected to take five years to complete.

Bexleyheath and Crayford MP David Evennett, who attended the estates demolition day, added: “Today marks a new beginning for the area.

“Erith Park is an exciting project that will bring much needed new flats and houses to the area and create a vibrant new community.

“I very much look forward to the completion of the building works and welcoming the first new residents in 2015.”

Members of Bexley Council’s Tory party have praised the Larner Road residents who have thrown their support behind the massive regeneration project.

In a joint statement, Councillors Brian Bishop, Maxine Fothergill and Chris Taylor said: “We’re delighted Bexley Council and Orbit have secured the funding to take this fantastic proposal forward.

“The residents have had a part to play from the beginning. “Residents have had an impact on the layout, design and naming of the new community that will replace what has been an estate that needed major investment and did not meet the needs of local people.

“We’re excited to see the new homes start to be built and the positive future the area now has.”