How more than 200 Ipswich residents are now trapped by cladding scandal
- Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND
Alex Dickin was just an 11-year-old schoolboy when the Waterfront block that became his first home was signed off as safe.
More than 15 years on and the now 27-year-old from Ipswich is facing a bill of £12,000 for insufficient cladding wrapped around that same building.
Trapped by the financial burden and repeated Covid lockdowns spent in his Cardinal Lofts apartment, found to have “combustible” material on the upper two floors last October, the IT analyst reached out to fellow homeowners and soon discovered 225 others in Ipswich alone facing the same issues.
From there, the Ipswich Cladiators group was born, some three-and-a-half years after Grenfell, with one key aim – to end the town’s own cladding scandal.
Today, we can reveal how the crisis impacting thousands nationally is erupting right on our doorstep. In Suffolk, 17 buildings are known to have insufficient cladding systems, with owners applying to the Government’s building safety fund to help foot repairs.
But when we asked the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to name the affected blocks, they refused, claiming identification could “be used by those with malicious intent to attack or compromise the safety of these buildings and their residents”. Bosses said it is their long-standing policy not to identify.
For flat owners like Alex, whose building currently has fire marshals patrolling it 24/7, it is a daily struggle.
“It is impossible to live peacefully in a home that may cause bankruptcy or endanger your life,” he said.
“I am lucky to have the option to go and stay somewhere else, but most won’t have this choice.
“Being locked down in a one-bed apartment is tough enough for anyone in this pandemic, but now imagine the building you’re in has fire safety defects.
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“We’re meant to protect each other from coronavirus by staying at home, however this home won’t save us from a fire.
“The addition of fire marshals walking down the hallways every 15 minutes is intrusive and distressing.”
Block Management UK Ltd, managing agent for Cardinal Lofts where Alex’s flat is located, previously said it sympathised with leaseholders for having to pay for repairs and the fire marshals, known as a ‘waking watch’.
The top two floors were found to be covered in combustible cladding after a fire assessment in October last year.
The owner applied to the Government's building safety fund, open to blocks with both Grenfell-style (ACM) and non-ACM cladding since March 2020.
But in the meantime, flat owners face a £300,000-a-year-bill.
Block Management previously said: “We sympathise with leaseholders having to pay for any façade project related works, especially those safety risk-mitigating measures like waking watch that have to be put in place at short notice.
“Residents’ safety is the number one priority; the waking watch decision was made by our client based on National Fire Chief’s Council guidance and the approved competent fire risk assessor’s advice following the safety report our client commissioned.”
The new Ipswich Cladiators group is aimed at providing support to those rapidly finding themselves in similar positions, Mr Dickin explains.
“Three-and-a-half years after the Grenfell fire tragedy, at least 225 Ipswich leaseholders have found themselves trapped in the scandal,” he said.
“Despite being signed off when originally built, their high-rise blocks have been discovered with combustible cladding and compartmentation faults.
“As well as the threat of an uncontained fire, leaseholders will have extortionate remediation bills heading their way in 2021.”
Although the group has 200-plus members, Mr Dickin said many are concerned about speaking up through fear of backlash from freeholders and additional mental strain.
“The combined anxiety of living in unsafe homes and the financial storm on the horizon is extremely draining,” he added.
“Some (members) have even become experts in building safety and law in order to understand and challenge this terrible situation they’ve been forced into.”
Another key member of the group, leasehold expert Peter Shelcot, is lending advice to those in unfamiliar territory.
He stressed the importance of knowing the names of the 17 buildings in Suffolk afflicted by cladding issues, and is rallying political figures in Suffolk, including Ipswich MP Tom Hunt, to push for a clearer timeline on the Buildings Risk Review.
Suffolk’s fire service said it will know more once it has inspected all high rises with non-Grenfell-style cladding by December 2021, as part of the national BRR.
This newspaper revealed cladding issues at Ipswich’s Cardinal Lofts, St Francis Tower and The Mill, but the rest are yet to be named.
MHCLG bosses said those in other affected buildings should have been told about the issues, though in previous cases tenants and leaseholders claim communication has been poor.
“We know many people are worried – our priority is removing dangerous cladding as quickly as possible, backed by £1.6billion of funding," a spokesman said.
“Building safety is the responsibility of building owners and costs of remediation work should be met without passing them on to leaseholders.
"We are considering options to fund this and will set out further details in due course."
Government chiefs say on their website that the current target is for all fire services to inspect buildings above 18 metres, with non-ACM style cladding, by December 2021.
-Follow the group’s progress on Twitter @icladiators, and contact them via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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