Fears nine-storey Ipswich tower block could be ‘structurally compromised’

Cardinal Lofts on Ipswich Waterfront. Inset: Alex Dickin and Claire Hamblion. 

Cardinal Lofts on Ipswich Waterfront. Inset: Alex Dickin and Claire Hamblion. - Credit: Archant

Six months after surveyors identified a structural issue in an Ipswich high rise which they warned could mean the “integrity of the building is compromised”, the landlord still cannot reassure homeowners their building is safe. 

Leaseholders at Cardinal Lofts on the Waterfront have faced two years of anguish over whether they will have to contribute to the estimated £9.2m cost of fire-proofing their tower block after safety defects were uncovered in 2020. 

But now a fresh fear has been added to the mix: that their nine-storey building might be structurally unsound. 

Cardinal Lofts, in Ipswich where there are concerns about the cladding Picture: Archant

Cardinal Lofts, in Ipswich where there are concerns about the cladding Picture: Archant

An email written from the government’s Building Safety Fund (BSF) to South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge, seen by this newspaper, reveals that a structural issue was identified in September 2021, and by December intrusive surveys were being carried out to establish how widespread the issue was. 

The lead consultant warned the BSF, which distributes cladding repair funds, that “the outcome of these surveys could mean the structural integrity of the building is compromised”. 

Once surveys were complete, the BSF team member told Mr Cartlidge it was likely the landlord would have to “review their costs for the project”. 

In the December email, the BSF team said the results of the survey were expected “by the end of the year”, but this week freeholder Grey GR Limited Partnership told this newspaper it was “still carrying out investigations”, and that it would be “irresponsible to comment before [we] know all of the details”. 

Cardinal Lofts, Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Cardinal Lofts, Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

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The landlord would not disclose what the “structural issue” was. 

And despite a group of Cardinal Loft leaseholders recently winning the right at tribunal to be “kept informed” by their landlord, flat owner Alex Dickin, 28, said he they had been given “zero information” about what the issue could mean for those living in the block’s 80 flats. 

“We have absolutely no idea what's going on”, he confessed. 

“But if I’m honest, I hope the whole thing needs tearing down. It’s caused us so much pain and stress over the last two years I’d be happy to see the back of it.” 

According to East Anglian construction consultant Saul Humphrey, a “structural issue” usually means something to do with the way the building is held up. 

“It’s likely to be good news that residents haven’t already been evacuated, because if it was life threatening any responsible landlord will have got everyone out of there”, he said.  

“But the people living in the building nevertheless have a right to know what’s happening.  

“It’s strange that the landlord is refusing to disclose what the issue is, and has not kept residents informed as the surveys have progressed.”  

East Anglia based construction expert Saul Humphrey

East Anglia based construction expert Saul Humphrey - Credit: PAUL HARRISON PHOTOGRAPHY / WWW.PAULHARRISONPHOTO.CO.UK

The news comes as leaseholders have vowed to put greater pressure on their landlord to take responsibility for the problems facing the high rise. 

For two years, flat owners have been warned there may be a “shortfall” in the freeholder's ability to cover the costs for safety improvements at the block

But now having discovered their landlord is backed by Railpen, the multi-billion-pound pension fund of what was originally British Rail, home owners insist they should not have to worry about covering the costs for remediating any of these issues themselves. 

On its website, Railpen boasts of “safekeeping and investing” assets worth £35bn. It is the main investor in the partnership which owns Cardinal Lofts: Grey GR. 

Grey said it had already forward-funded the £293,285 receipt for the 24-hour fire patrol in place from November 2020 to October 2021 at the building, as well as “all professional and investigative fees in relation to remediation”. 

Alex Dickin formed Ipswich Cladiators last year

Alex Dickin said he would be happy to see the entire block demolished - Credit: Archant

But leaseholder Claire Hamblion, 48, said she would be “absolutely devastated” if the building’s owners didn’t “reach into its pockets and spare home owners from bankruptcy”. 

“If they were to pass some of the costs of any of this back to us, there’s no question about it, I’d be digging my heels in and fighting them all the way. We're not paying a penny,” she said. 

Clive Adams, head of housing management at law firm Birketts LLP, said the newest version of the government’s Building Safety Bill was designed to “get around complex corporate structures and ownership arrangements” to make developers and freeholders face liability.  

“Provisions are coming into place to help home owners go after the moneymen in all of this – the people steering the ship”, he said. 

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

Claire Hamblion and Alex Dickin, of the Ipswich Cladiators group, set up to fight cladding scandal of unsafe flats - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Timeline

June 2017: A fire tears through Grenfell Tower in north London, killing 74 people.

January 2020: The now-Department for Levelling Up tells owners of high-rise residential buildings to assess fire risks, and a survey is commissioned by Grey at Cardinal Lofts. 

October 2020: The survey is complete and combustible material is found in the façade. 

November 2020: The landlord pays for a 24-hour security team – a Waking Watch – to patrol the building. 

December 2020: Grey starts the process of applying to the Building Safety Fund. 

March 2021: Grey applies for the Waking Watch release fund, where the government pays for the installation of heat sensor fire alarms, obviating the need for the watch. 

August 2021: The installation of the fire alarm system begins. 

October 2021: The install is completed and the Waking Watch comes to an end. 

December 2021: Cardinal Loft leaseholders find out that Grey has no directors and is not eligible to apply for the building safety fund on their behalf. An email from the BSF also refers to “structural issues” which might compromise the block’s structural integrity. 

February 2022: Leaseholders win the right to be informed about key developments by their landlord at tribunal. 

March 2022: The landlord confirms it has appointed a power of attorney to act on its behalf, and the BSF application is accepted.