Revealed: Waterfront flats to be wrapped in 'breathable' material while cladding replaced

Fire safety issues were uncovered at the Orwell Quay complex in Ipswich earlier this year

Fire safety issues were uncovered at the Orwell Quay complex in Ipswich earlier this year. Inset: Tom Hunt MP and buy-to-let owner Terry Colthorpe - Credit: TERRY COLTHORPE/ARCHANT

Apartment blocks on Ipswich's flagship Waterfront are set to be cloaked in netting-style material while its ‘high-risk’ Grenfell-style cladding is replaced, it can be revealed.

This newspaper’s investigations team revealed fire safety problems at the Orwell Quay complex behind Aurora - which includes flats at 1, 3, 5, and 7 Anchor Street alongside 51 Patteson Road - in June this year.

Now it has emerged that a 10 to 12-month project to replace the cladding, now identified as ACM (aluminum composite material) which was partly in use on Grenfell Tower, will use scaffold netting to protect buildings.

Project consultants say the proposed material is different from vinyl wrapping, which has been used on St Francis Tower in the town centre, and will offer a “breathable solution” that lets in natural daylight.

Three Waterfront blocks, at the Orwell Quay development near Aurora, have been found to have cladding issues

Five Waterfront blocks, at the Orwell Quay development near Aurora, have been found to have cladding issues - Credit: ARCHANT

Tenants at the Franciscan Way tower say they are living in “prison-like” conditions while the 17-storey block’s cladding is replaced.

The tower’s managing agents, Block Management UK Ltd, which oversee project-related communications, were initially criticised for a lack of response to residents’ concerns.

The company later said it "understands" not all tenants "were sufficiently notified" ahead of the shrinkwrap’s installation and that all occupants will be written to beforehand in future.

St Francis Tower block Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

St Francis Tower is currently covered in plastic shrinkwrap - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Terry Colthorpe, who owns a buy-to-let in 3 Anchor Street, praised recent communication from his building's managing agents over the project’s scale and time-frame.

Samples of the proposed material are being shown at the complex’s concierge office so residents are able to view it and provide feedback.

“They’re making sure the material is compliant and it’s available to look at downstairs,” said Mr Colthorpe.

Terry Colthorpe owns a buy-to-let in 3 Anchor Street

Terry Colthorpe owns a buy-to-let in 3 Anchor Street - Credit: TERRY COLTHORPE

“They’ve been fairly descriptive and are keeping us up to date.”

The complex, owned by Orwell Quay (Ipswich) Management Company Ltd, is managed on the firm’s behalf by EWS.

Most Read

In a letter seen by this newspaper, EWS chiefs said that for the blocks under 18m in the complex, 1, 3 and 5 Anchor Street, a tender has been submitted to developers Persimmon in the hope works will be fully-funded.

If successful, they expect “boots on the ground” by the end of October 2021, with work across the development set to involve removal of ACM cladding, repairs to fire-stopping material between walls, and the removal of some balconies to replace timber decking.

51 Patterson Road is taller than the adjacent blocks and therefore qualifies for Government funding

51 Patterson Road is taller than the adjacent blocks and therefore qualifies for Government funding - Credit: ARCHANT

Two of the blocks - 7 Anchor Street and 51 Patteson Road - are above 18m and therefore qualify for Government funding for cladding repairs.

However, additional repairs are needed and EWS is waiting for the results of an appeal to the Building Safety Fund (BSF). Once that is decided, works are expected to start in late October and last for up to a year.

Managing agents say once the main contractor is appointed, they intend to hire a liaison officer who will be able to answer any cladding project-related questions and concerns.

Insurance premiums have been pushed up as a result of the fire safety issues

Insurance premiums have been pushed up as a result of the fire safety issues - Credit: ARCHANT

“We do appreciate that residents at Orwell Quay may have concerns in relation to scaffold netting,” an EWS spokesman said.

“Therefore, a sample of the proposed material has been deposited at the development’s concierge office so residents have the opportunity to view this and provide their feedback.”

Company bosses said a consultant working on the project recently advised them that the “ancillary protective material” will provide the building with a “proprietary layer of protection” throughout the remedial works.

The stay put fire procedure notice inside 3 Anchor Street

The stay put fire procedure notice inside 3 Anchor Street - Credit: SUBMITTED

“Please note the material being proposed has been selected in consideration of both the protective benefits, but also as a breathable solution that permits the transition of natural daylight," they said.

“This differs from vinyl wrapping, which has been used on other cladding remediation works and is not considered a suitable solution for these works.”

Town MP ‘keen’ to visit block

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt, who recently brought the situation at St Francis Tower to the attention of the Prime Minister, is hoping to arrange a visit to Orwell Quay to view the material and check how the project is being communicated to both leaseholders and residents.

Officials at the recently-renamed Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities are understood to be reviewing possible replacement options for shrinkwrap that is “suffocating” tenants at St Francis Tower after Boris Johnson was alerted to the ordeal.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt. Picture: PARLIAMENT LIVE TV

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt said he wanted to visit Orwell Quay - Credit: Archant

The central Ipswich block is the first in the country to receive cash from the Government’s £5bn BSF and Mr Hunt recently expressed his frustration that the shrinkwrap issue was not commanding national attention.

Managing agents BMUK previously said the wrap protects the building and workers from the elements. But they said recent meetings with Mr Hunt over the project had been “constructive”.

“On one level it’s clearly a good thing this block was among the first to get the BSF money,” Mr Hunt said.

“But my sense is that if there were St Francis Towers all over the country, it would command much greater national attention.”

Alex Dickin, of Ipswich Cladiators, at the building safety rally in London

Alex Dickin of Ipswich Cladiators said he had received positive feedback about communication from EWS - Credit: IPSWICH CLADIATORS

The MP said he planned to hold a Commons debate to establish a changed approach to balancing a need for cladding replacement work with the mental health and lives of people living in tower blocks.

Alex Dickin of campaign group Ipswich Cladiators previously said that if the situation at St Francis Tower is to change, national rules and guidance must change first.

The 28-year-old, who also owns a flat on the Waterfront at Cardinal Lofts, said he had received good feedback from group members living at Orwell Quay about the proposed netting.

“I think there is a positive outlook and feedback I’ve had shows how things are going quite well at Orwell Quay,” he added.

- Read more coverage of the cladding scandal from this newspaper's investigations team

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter