PM intervenes in St Francis Tower row as shrinkwrap raised at PMQs

Tom Hunt MP raised the issue of St Francis Tower's shrinkwrap at Wednesday's PMQs

Tom Hunt MP raised the issue of St Francis Tower's shrinkwrap at Wednesday's PMQs - Credit: HOUSE OF COMMONS/PARLIAMENT TV/CHARLOTTE BOND

Boris Johnson has pledged to raise concerns about a tower block’s shrinkwrap directly with the housing secretary - after Ipswich’s MP quizzed him on it at Prime Minister’s questions.

The 17-storey St Francis Tower was the first high-rise block of flats in the country to receive a slice of the £5billion Building Safety Fund after its cladding system was found to be dangerous.

But tenants have complained of prison-like conditions after the entire building was covered in plastic shrinkwrap in late May, which bosses say is to protect workers and the tower from the elements.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, Londo

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London - Credit: PA

In August, Tom Hunt MP requested a rethink of the material which is due to cover the tower until at least next spring while unsafe cladding is replaced.

He was due to meet managing agents Block Management UK Ltd and contractors Oander Ltd today to discuss their proposals.

That meeting was postponed to next week, with Mr Hunt raising the issue at Prime Minister's Questions instead.

Addressing the PM, he said: “Many desperate tenants are living in darkness for 12 months, and bars have been put on the windows so that they can barely be opened.

He added: “Does the prime minister agree that yes, this vital work needs to take place but that we need balance and that we need to do this quickly for the lives and mental health of the desperate people in that tower right now?"

St Francis Tower block Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

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

Mr Johnson replied: “My honorable friend I’m sure raises a very important question, I’ll study the details of what he’s said, and I’ll ask the secretary of state for communities and local government to take up the matter directly.”

After the session, Mr Hunt said he will be sharing further details with the PM in due course, adding: “I look forward to urgently meeting with the housing secretary to discuss how we can address this awful situation.

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“There needs to be a real sense of urgency here and I won’t stop until this is resolved.”

A spokesman for Block Management UK said: “Block Management UK has arranged to meet with Tom Hunt MP next week to advise him on the next steps with the St Francis Tower project.”

The firm, which acts on behalf of freeholder R. G. Securities (No.2) Ltd, previously clarified that it manages the cladding project-related communications with residents at St Francis Tower, not the building work itself.

Oander Ltd has also been approached for comment.

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 and by October leaseholders faced bills of up to £21,000 per flat.

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 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. 

In April 2021, leaseholders were unable to speak publicly due to ongoing legal action but managing agents say they were informed of plans to replace cladding.

The following month, shrinkwrap was fitted on the tower. A number of tenants say this happened without warning.

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

Scaffolding poles designed to limit window openings to 10cm appeared in June 2021, prompting a visit from Tom Hunt MP.

In July, the situation was brought to the attention of the nation in Parliament.

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