'Not fit for animals': MP talks tough over shrink wrap saga

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

Tom Hunt secured an hour-and-a-half debate about the living conditions at St Francis Tower in Westminster Hall on Wednesday, March 2 - Credit: ARCHANT

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt has called shrink-wrapped St Francis Tower a “scar on the town’s landscape”, with tenants living in conditions “not fit for animals”. 

In a Westminster Hall debate secured by Mr Hunt on Wednesday, the plight of those living behind the wrap while cladding remediation works are completed was discussed at length in parliament for the first time

He said leaving tenants without natural light was “morally wrong” – and that by the time the works are scheduled to be finished in December, they will have been trapped behind the vinyl for 18 months. 

Addressing MPs during the debate, he said the conditions there were not fit for animals.

"The sight of St Francis Tower covered in that shrink wrap has become a scar on our landscape and it is something which is incredibly visible every day", he added.

Interior view of the plastic wrap covering St Francis Tower in Ipswich

Interior view of the plastic wrap covering St Francis Tower in Ipswich - Credit: CAROLINE HAYDON-KNOWELL

He said while he knew remediation works were “vital”, he wanted contractors to use “breathable material”. 

Commenting on Orwell Quay, another Ipswich high-rise soon to undergo remediation works, Mr Hunt said he did not want a repeat of St Francis Tower. 

“I’ve been told there will be a netting used instead of shrink wrap, but it’s only a slight improvement, and not where we need to be.” 

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The Ipswich MP reserved special criticism for St Francis Tower’s managing agent, Block Management, and project consultant Oander, accusing them of failing to communicate with tenants in advance of the shrink wrap “appearing almost overnight”, and being difficult to get in touch with since. 

“I believe it was the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star’s front pages on this issue which actually brought Block Management to the table”, Mr Hunt said.  

Our reporter outside the offices of Block Management, who manage St Francis Tower. Picture: Sarah

Former investigations reporter Emily Townsend last year delivered a letter to Block Management, who manage St Francis Tower, demanding answers over the conditions there  - Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN

BMUK has been approached for comment, as has the boots-on-the-ground contractor responsible for carrying out the works, Guildmore.  

Mr Hunt said the government needed to “think ahead” and agreed with the MP for Stevenage, Stephen McPartland, that a remediation work “Code of Practice” should be established. 

Speaking to this newspaper, Mr Hunt said: “It seems all the government thought about was how to fund the works, not what happens while they are actually carried out.” 

Caroline Haydon-Knowell who lives in St Francis Tower block in Ipswich PICTURE: CHARLOTTE BOND

Caroline Haydon-Knowell who lives in St Francis Tower block in Ipswich PICTURE: CHARLOTTE BOND - Credit: Charlotte Bond

The minister present, Stuart Andrew MP, said the government would look into the types of wrapping used and was keen to help bring remediation works to a “swift conclusion”.  

‘We hope warm words turn into meaningful action’ 

Alex Dickin, spokesman for Ipswich Cladiators, was commended during the debate by Mr Hunt for devoting so much time and energy into representing the victims of the cladding crisis. 

Mr Dickin said: “We support three recommendations made during the debate: a code of practice for remediation works, a digital register for new and remediated buildings and the option for the government to purchase affected properties from leaseholders who want a way out of the crisis. 

“I would bite the government's hand off if this became an option. 

Alex Dickin at the Cladiators rally on the Ipswich Waterfront. Picture:Sarah Lucy Brown

Alex Dickin at the Ipswich Cladiators rally on the Waterfront. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

“Our hope is that warm words from the new housing minister turn into meaningful action. 

“St Francis Tower will not be a one-off and other residents across high-rises in Ipswich could be cut off from the outside world as well.”