MP demands minister steps in over ‘dark, tomb-like’ St Francis Tower flats

Tom Hunt, MP for Ipswich, has penned a letter to the housing minister about St Francis Tower

Tom Hunt, MP for Ipswich, has penned a letter to the housing minister about St Francis Tower - Credit: ELLA WILKINSON/HOUSE OF COMMONS

An MP has penned a scathing letter to a housing minister over the plight of residents living behind plastic sheeting at a tower block with unsafe cladding.

Tom Hunt, Conservative MP for Ipswich, wrote to Chris Pincher outlining his fears for people’s mental health - and slamming what he describes as “unacceptable living conditions with little light and poor ventilation” at St Francis Tower.

The building, which is Suffolk’s tallest occupied block of flats, is currently undergoing “essential” work to replace dangerous cladding identified in 2018 after the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Residents in St Francis Tower in Ipswich are outraged after the entire building has been wrapped in plastic

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

Mr Hunt’s letter heavily criticises “poor communication” from Block Management UK Ltd (BMUK), the managing agent of the tower, which responded to residents’ concerns on Monday after a month of silence.

His plea for ministerial action comes after this newspaper's investigations team uncovered what have been described as “prison-like” conditions at the building earlier this year.

Describing his visit to the tower, in Franciscan Way, Mr Hunt wrote: “I was absolutely appalled at the condition my constituents are forced to live in. 

“The mental health detriments of living in these dark, ‘tomb-like’ flats are starting to be felt with some residents getting in touch with the negative effect this sheeting is having.”

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

In its letter to residents on Monday, BMUK said the tower is the first building to secure money through the government's Building Safety Fund - and that all unsafe cladding should be removed and replaced by the end of next year.

It said the flame-retardant wrap is used to protect workers from falling and ensures work can be carried out in all weather conditions.

It added that it intends for the wrapping to be removed within 12 months.

Restricting the window openings to 10cm comes as part of guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), it continued.

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

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In his letter to Mr Pincher, Mr Hunt said that he has received complaints from residents having to pay more for electric fans and ventilation due to restricted airflow.

He wrote that “clearly this work needs to take place to make St Francis Tower a safe place to live”.

However, he added it must be done in a way “that is sensitive to both the living conditions and mental health of residents and tenants living there”.

Mr Hunt slammed BMUK’s lack of response to two letters he sent to them in June as “appalling behaviour”.

The freeholder and managing agents of a central Ipswich tower block are facing calls to respond to residents

The managing agents of a central Ipswich tower block responded to residents' fears over their living conditions on Monday. From top: Block Management UK Ltd director David Collinson, Tom Hunt MP and a resident in 'darkness' at St Francis Tower, tenants Rand Moore and Caroline Haydon-Knowell, and BMUK operations director Simon Matthews - Credit: ARCHANT/BLOCK MANAGEMENT UK LTD/OFFICE OF TOM HUNT MP

BMUK said it "understands" that not all tenants "were sufficiently notified" ahead of this year's works and that all occupants will be written to beforehand in future, with communal notices also put in place complete with contact details for the company.

Its statement added: "We do understand these cladding removal measures are having an impact on residents, and we ask for their understanding that we have a duty to prioritise their safety above all else and we thank them for their continued patience.

"We hope that once the work is completed residents of the building will enjoy greatly reduced stress and anxiety knowing their homes have been made safe."

The firm has been approached for comment on Mr Hunt’s latest letter.

- Read more coverage of the cladding scandal on the Archant Investigations Unit Facebook page

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