‘Inhumane’ - Plastic wrap tower block families 'can't open windows' thanks to new metal bars

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

Already cloaked in darkness from plastic sheeting wrapped around their 17-storey block of flats, families in St Francis Tower are now facing a lack of fresh air after metal bars were fixed to windows, preventing them from opening fully.

Shrinkwrap was put up at the Ipswich town centre block in May in preparation for cladding repairs, which have been scheduled since an independent fire test uncovered cladding deficiencies in 2018.

Now metal scaffolding bars have been fitted to windows, which residents claim appeared over the weekend with no warning from the building's managing agents, restricting how far they can be opened and how much air can be let in.

Metal scaffolding poles, with yellow stoppers, have been fixed to the windows of St Francis Tower in Ipswich

Metal scaffolding poles, with yellow stoppers, have been fixed to the windows of St Francis Tower in Ipswich - Credit: CAROLINE HAYDON/KNOWELL

Bosses at Block Management UK Ltd, which runs the building, are yet to respond publicly despite several requests for comment via phone and email.

Caroline Haydon-Knowell, who lives on the 15th floor, said she had been told the poles were put up for safety reasons after people tried to climb the scaffolding.

She questioned how people are managing to climb up the building, and added: "This is making our living conditions even worse. I've been so scared the past few nights.

Rand Moore and Caroline Haydon-Knowell live in St Francis Tower, Ipswich

Rand Moore and Caroline Haydon-Knowell live in St Francis Tower, Ipswich - Credit: ELLA WILKINSON

"However, I don’t wish to now be feeling like a convict living in a prison cell with bars on my windows, as well as being suffocated by shrink wrap, with no fresh air and no view, and paying for the privilege.”

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt said he was "very disturbed" to see the new shrinkwrap on a visit to several flats last Thursday, adding that he feared it would be "debilitating" to the mental health of his constituents.

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On hearing about the new metal scaffolding poles, he tweeted to say he was "very angry" adding that "this can't continue".

Building safety crisis campaigners Ipswich Cladiators added on Twitter: “Unimaginable that this is happening in our town. Blocking light is one thing, but stopping natural ventilation (during a pandemic) is on another level of inhumane.”

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

He is now writing another letter to the block's managing agents and plans to raise the case in the Commons.

"You wouldn't treat animals like that," he said. 

"It's unbelievable, off the scale ridiculous. The fact that it's happening in this country, in today's day and age, is shocking to me.

"It is absolutely outrageous, I've never seen anything like this in my time as MP."

He added that the combination of the shrinkwrap and metal poles is making his constituents "feel even more like they are in a prison", adding that he plans to "keep banging on about this every single day until it is sorted".

- Are you affected by the cladding crisis? Email our investigations team.

Residents have been left in shock after the entirety of St Francis Tower in Ipswich has been wrapped in plastic

Residents have been left in shock after the entirety of St Francis Tower in Ipswich has been wrapped in plastic - Credit: ELLA WILKINSON

St Francis Tower: A timeline 

In July 2018, following the Grenfell fire disaster which claimed 72 lives, St Francis Tower’s owners carried out an independent fire test. Assessors found its HPL cladding posed a risk. 

By August, additional safety measures – including a 24-hour waking watch which saw four workers employed to help evacuate residents in the event of a fire – had been installed. 

The following month, work began to strip cladding from the block. 

In early 2019 sprinkler, air vent, and fire alarm systems were installed, and plans were drawn up for the new cladding. 

Removal work hit a hurdle later that year when gaping holes were discovered under the cladding and problems with windows were identified – meaning around 45% of it had to stay on. 

As of spring 2021, work is underway to remove the rest and roll out fire safety improvements.

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