'Ipswich will suffer': The faces of families trapped in dangerous homes worth £0

Igor and Jelena with Pete Shelcot. Cladding Crisis in Ipswich, Wherstead Road Picture: CHARLOTTE BO

Cladding crisis victims Igor and Jelena Solovjova with leasehold expert Pete Shelcot Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Juggling three jobs to make ends meet, Jelena Solovjova, has a huge weight on her shoulders.

She was dealt a major blow when fire risks were identified at her Wherstead Road home in Ipswich and is now stuck in a flat valued at £0, caring for her disabled husband, and facing rising costs on a home she can no longer sell.

Jelena. Cladding Crisis in Ipswich, Wherstead Road Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Jelena Solovjova, a victim of the cladding crisis in Ipswich, Wherstead Road Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Mrs Solovjova’s building, at 163 Wherstead Road, and six others nearby, are the latest in a string of Ipswich blocks revealed to have fire safety problems after the Grenfell disaster.

Apartment blocks at 8, 10, and 12 Rapier Street, alongside 163, 165, 167, and 169 Wherstead Road, all have non-combustible cladding but plywood and insulation underneath are Euroclass E - defined as having a ‘major contribution to fire’. 

Across town, a stone’s throw from the ‘jewel in the crown of Ipswich’ Waterfront, 28-year-old Alex Dickin’s long-held dream of buying a house seems a lifetime away.

Thanks to similar fire safety defects at Cardinal Lofts, constructed when he was just 11 years old. He bought his first home with hard-earned cash saved for a deposit but it is also now worthless.

Their experiences lay bare the escalating building safety crisis striking Suffolk’s county town - with Mr Dickin’s Cladiators group, formed six months ago, now estimating around 2,264 apartments in the town centre and Waterfront are directly impacted by fire safety issues uncovered post-Grenfell. 

Having penned a desperate plea to the Prime Minister last week alongside national group ‘End Our Cladding Scandal’, begging him to act before there is another tragedy like the deadly 2017 blaze, Mr Dickin is now warning around 19 blocks in Ipswich have defective cladding, insulation, timber balconies and missing fire-stopping material between walls.

Such defects mean thousands of Ipswich apartments are now valued at £0 thanks to fire risk assessments carried out through ‘EWS1’ (External Wall Fire Review) forms. We contacted the PM’s office for comment on the letter.

Alex Dickin and Claire Hamblion of Ipswich Cladiators group, set up to fight cladding scandal

Alex Dickin and Claire Hamblion of Ipswich Cladiators group, set up to fight the cladding scandal - Credit: Charlotte Bond

"Six months since forming Ipswich Cladiators, we have seen the cladding scandal grow from a small selection of buildings to now covering the majority of the 'jewel in the crown' Ipswich Waterfront, and a number of other high rises,” said Mr Dickin. 

“Even though other cities have a large number of buildings affected, Ipswich will suffer from the high density of homes valued at £0 and deemed unsafe."

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The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has a £5billion Building Safety Fund but owners Freehold Managers Plc and managing agents Encore of the Wherstead Road and Rapier Street developments said their application was turned down as blocks under 18m are ineligible.

Cladding Crisis in Ipswich, Wherstead Road Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Cladding crisis in Ipswich, Wherstead Road Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Insurance costs have shot up, which Encore bosses say is “due to the identification of the combustible materials” and a fire engineer report carried out in December 2020, with premiums expected to fall once repairs are completed.

Investigations have also added thousands to the service charge, billed to owners like Mrs Solovjova.

“My husband is disabled, he’s not working, so all the payments are now on my shoulders and that stresses him out as well,” she said.

Igor and Pete Shelcot. Cladding Crisis in Ipswich, Wherstead Road Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Igor and Pete Shelcot. Cladding crisis in Ipswich, Wherstead Road Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

“It’s really stressful because I have to work three jobs, we can’t sell our house, we’re just stuck in this mess.”

Encore says no repair costs have been incurred yet with replacement options to be decided upon in the coming weeks. 

Chiefs at Freehold Managers Plc and Encore said they sympathised with the “difficult” situation leaseholders are in, adding that their priority is “ensuring the safety of all residents”.

The owners are “taking guidance from appointed experts” to ensure buildings are remediated as “quickly and effectively as possible”.

Encore chiefs added: “We will be engaging with (leaseholders) at each stage of the process to listen to their concerns, their preferences for remedial works (where available) and sharing the overall strategy and timescales.”

MHCLG bosses say they understand people like Mrs Solovjova are worried, adding that its scheme for those in buildings between 11m and 18m is designed to protect leaseholders from “unaffordable costs”, ensuring no-one will pay more than £50 a month to remove unsafe cladding. Nine Ipswich blocks are under 18m.

Igor and Jelena with Pete Shelcot. Cladding Crisis in Ipswich, Wherstead Road Picture: CHARLOTTE BO

Igor and Jelena Solovjova with Pete Shelcot Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

“This is on top of the more than £5bn to fully fund the replacement of unsafe cladding in highest risk buildings,” a spokesman said.

“We have been clear throughout that owners should make buildings safe without passing on costs to leaseholders – and we will ensure they pay for the mistakes of the past with a new levy and tax to contribute to the costs of cladding replacement.”

So far, 17 blocks have applied for cash in Suffolk with the lion’s share at Ipswich’s flagship Waterfront.

Ipswich Waterfront

Most buildings impacted by the building safety crisis in Ipswich are on the town's flagship Ipswich Waterfront  - Credit: Nicole Drury

The only successful application to date has been at St Francis Tower, where cladding repairs are yet to begin despite deficiencies being uncovered in 2018. 

All eyes have been on the central Ipswich block recently due to the plight of its residents trapped behind shrinkwrap and scaffolding bars ahead of the work, with many viewing it as a glimpse of what’s to come.

It has now been almost a month since we first contacted the tower’s managing agents on the issue. Last week, we challenged the firm on our front page and will continue to fight for answers on residents’ safety.

Luke Ren, Caroline Haydon-Knowell and Rand Moore, residents in St Francis Tower in Ipswich

Luke Ren, Caroline Haydon-Knowell and Rand Moore, residents in St Francis Tower in Ipswich, are outraged after the entire building has been wrapped in plastic. Top right: Tom Hunt MP with tower residents, and bottom right, the metal poles that have been fixed to windows - Credit: ELLA WILKINSON/TOM HUNT MP/CAROLINE HAYDON-KNOWELL

Mr Dickin, who led his first building safety protest in Ipswich last month, said that going forward, he expects more boots to be on the ground to lobby MPs and “fight against (the) injustice” he claims leaseholders and tenants are facing.

What do our MPs think?

In previous Parliament votes on building safety, all but one of Suffolk’s MPs voted down proposals aimed at shielding leaseholders from crippling repair costs.

Lords' amendments to the Fire Safety Bill, aimed at stopping building owners from passing on fire safety costs to individual flat owners, suffered a defeat in the Commons earlier this year. 

There was a Conservative Party whip in place although some Tory MPs, including Ipswich’s MP Tom Hunt, defied it.

We have asked all of the county’s MPs to give their stance on the issue, given the rapid escalation of problems affecting Suffolk’s county town.

We aim to print their responses in the coming days as our investigation of the crisis continues.

- Read more coverage from Archant's Investigations Unit on our Facebook page

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