Alternatives sought for 'suffocating' shrinkwrap on tower block

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt met with St Francis Tower managing agents Block Management UK Ltd on Thursday

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt met with St Francis Tower managing agents Block Management UK Ltd on Thursday - Credit: ARCHANT

Alternative options to the shrinkwrap that is "suffocating" tenants in St Francis Tower Ipswich have been presented to Government officials as the issue is propelled onto the national agenda.

St Francis Tower’s managing agents Block Management UK Ltd (BMUK) met the town’s MP Tom Hunt on Thursday to discuss scenarios put forward by the block’s owners, RG Securities (No. 2) Ltd, to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Potential replacement options include putting windows in the plastic wrap while other proposals use alternative materials.

But none are certain yet and Mr Hunt has requested finer details in writing so he can discuss funding options with the Government - as both BMUK and the building’s freeholder say different materials may cost more.

Cladding replacement and remediation work at the 17-storey block, where fire safety problems were uncovered in 2018, has already cost at least £3.6million.

Most of that money was covered by cash from the Government’s £5billion Building Safety Fund, with the tower becoming the first high-rise block of flats in the country to receive a portion.

Last week, Mr Hunt raised the issue at Prime Minister's Questions, where Mr Johnson said he would be asking the housing secretary to take up the issue directly.

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

Conditions at the tower were first revealed by this newspaper’s investigations team after the entire building was covered in plastic shrinkwrap in May, a material bosses say is to protect workers and the tower from the elements while cladding is replaced.

Tenants complained it was like “living in a prison” and criticised communication from BMUK, which has since rolled out a new email address for residents’ concerns.

Following Thursday’s meeting, Mr Hunt added: “It doesn’t seem like much is going to happen to resolve things in the short term, which is disappointing.

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

"But I’m trying to work constructively now to try and get the details to move things forward so we can get the shrinkwrap off.

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“Since my PMQ, I’ve had contact with both (former housing secretary) Robert Jenrick and the housing minister Chris Pincher.

He added: “Obviously, we now have a new secretary of state so I’m aiming to meet with him and those in his department shortly.”

St Francis Tower block Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

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

Meanwhile BMUK, which has previously clarified it is responsible for communicating with residents over the schedule of works, said: “It was a very constructive meeting, where we briefed Mr Hunt on the progress of the project and the work that has taken place to investigate ways to mitigate the disruption caused by the vital cladding replacement.

“We appreciate Tom’s support and look forward to further constructive meetings in the future.”

Mr Hunt also expressed his frustration that the issue was not commanding national attention.

“On one level it’s clearly a good thing that this block was among the first to get the Building Safety Fund money,” he added.

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

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.

Dozens protest at building safety rally

Around 50 homeowners from the Ipswich area joined the Leaseholders Together rally in Westminster on Thursday.

Alex Dickin, of campaign group Ipswich Cladiators, said the group felt they had no choice other than to demand action in this way.

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

Alex Dickin, of Ipswich Cladiators, at the building safety rally in London - Credit: IPSWICH CLADIATORS

“Innocent leaseholders in Ipswich are dismayed by the lack of progress in the debate over who pays for the cladding works and also the lack of pace in making our homes safe,” he added.

Claire Hamblion, who owns a flat in Cardinal Lofts and was recently hit by a £6,500 service charge bill, was also present at the rally.

Campaigners also voiced their opinion on Michael Gove being appointed housing secretary in the Prime Minister’s cabinet reshuffle.

Around 50 homeowners from the Ipswich area joined a rally on the building safety crisis in London on Thursday

Around 50 homeowners from the Ipswich area joined a rally on the building safety crisis in London on Thursday, September 16. Pictured in the centre is Claire Hamblion, who was handed a £6,500 half-yearly service charge bill a few weeks ago - Credit: IPSWICH CLADIATORS

Mr Dickin added: “The appointment of Mr Gove as housing secretary offers an opportunity to change course and stick to their repeated promise that leaseholders should not pay for historic fire safety defects.

“It also provides the new secretary of state a first-hand chance to listen to the plight of hundreds of thousands of leaseholders and make a real difference to their lives.”

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

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