Why the silence on conditions at tower block? We challenge St Francis Tower management firm

People living in St Francis Tower have spoken out about living conditions after shrinkwrap was fitted.

People living in St Francis Tower have spoken out about living conditions after shrinkwrap was fitted. Pictured are Rand Moore and Caroline Haydon-Knowell - Credit: ELLA WILKINSON/CAROLINE HAYDON-KNOWELL

Company bosses managing a tower block covered in plastic shrinkwrap are staying silent despite escalating concerns over the wellbeing of people inside it.

Distressed families at the 17-storey St Francis Tower in Ipswich town centre are living in flats wrapped in plastic sheeting which they say arrived without warning in late May.

As of Friday, residents are barely able to open their windows after scaffolding poles with stoppers were fixed to external panes. 

Scaffolding poles with yellow stoppers have been fixed to windows at St Francis Tower

Scaffolding poles with yellow stoppers have been fixed to windows at St Francis Tower - Credit: CAROLINE HAYDON-KNOWELL

Campaigners have dubbed living conditions at the tower, first uncovered by this newspaper in early June, as “inhumane”.

Meanwhile, Tom Hunt has pledged to raise the issue in Parliament and described the situation as “among the most shocking” he had seen since becoming Ipswich’s MP.

Despite numerous attempts to contact the tower’s managing agents Block Management UK Ltd over a three-week period, they are yet to respond publicly.

Tom Hunt MP

Tom Hunt MP said residents of St Francis Tower in Ipswich are "literally living in the dark". - Credit: Tom Hunt MP's office

Cladding issues were first identified at the block, which has 116 flats, a year after the Grenfell Tower disaster when its owner, real estate firm R G Securities (No. 2) Ltd, paid for an independent fire test.

Some of the cladding remains on the tower after gaping holes were identified around windows, although replacement work had been expected to start this spring.

It is understood the shrinkwrap has been put up in preparation but residents say repair work is yet to start.

Tenants at St Francis Tower in Ipswich are outraged after the entire building has been wrapped in plastic sheeting

Tenants at St Francis Tower in Ipswich are outraged after the entire building has been wrapped in plastic sheeting. From left to right: Luke Ren, Caroline Haydon-Knowell and Rand Moore - Credit: ELLA WILKINSON

After communication with residents and Mr Hunt also hitting a brick wall, we visited Block Management’s offices in Ipswich yesterday afternoon in the hope of finally receiving a response from the company after weeks of silence over the shrinkwrap.

However, when we arrived at their Lower Brook Street premises we were told no-one was there to speak to us - and so we posted a letter urging them to respond, together with our front-page story on the issue in Wednesday’s Ipswich Star.

Our reporter outside the offices of Block Management, who manage St Francis Tower. Picture: Sarah

We delivered a letter to the Block Management, who manage St Francis Tower, demanding answers over the conditions there - Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Now, we are posing 15 questions to the firm which we feel must be answered to ensure residents’ safety and wellbeing. 

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Our letter will sit alongside a second strongly-worded note from Mr Hunt who is also vowing to “bang on” about the issue until Block Management responds.

He wrote: “I have now first-hand seen the abhorrent conditions you have created through erecting sheeting at St Francis Tower.

“The severe negative mental effect that the sheeting is having on the residents’ quality of life and mental health is completely unacceptable. Since I became MP for Ipswich, this is one of the most shocking things I have come across.”

A letter from Tom Hunt MP to Block Management

A letter from Tom Hunt MP to Block Management - Credit: OFFICE OF TOM HUNT MP

He added that his constituents have a “right to basic dignities, fresh air and light in their homes”, adding that he demands to know what is being done to rectify the situation.

Our 15 questions for Block Management

  1. Why were residents not informed about the shrinkwrap and scaffolding poles?

  2. What are the materials being used for?

  3. Did you consider the impact on residents of both materials being used on the tower at the same time?

  4. How long will the shrinkwrap and window poles stay in place?

  5. Could they be up for longer than 18 months?

  6. Is the shrinkwrap fire retardant and has it been tested recently?

  7. When are the cladding works going to start?

  8. How have residents been communicated with about the upcoming cladding works?

  9. Living conditions in the tower, with dimmed light and restricted airflow, have been described as inhumane. What do you say to that?

  10. What is your response to residents’ concerns over their living conditions?

  11. Do you have any plans to improve airflow in the flats, particularly given the current Covid-19 pandemic?

  12. Will you consider cutting holes out of the shrinkwrap, as proposed at a similar block in Gosport?

  13. Will you consider moving residents out of the tower while works are carried out, particularly if they are due to stay on for over a year?

  14. Current conditions in the tower are having a detrimental impact on people’s mental health. What support is available to residents?

  15. Was an environmental health assessment carried out prior to the shrinkwrap and scaffolding poles going up?

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