Who is behind companies staying silent over St Francis Tower?
- Credit: ARCHANT/BLOCK MANAGEMENT UK LTD/OFFICE OF TOM HUNT MP
Pressure is mounting on the managers of a central Ipswich tower block, where residents are shrouded in darkness from plastic building wrap in "prison-like" conditions.
But who is behind the companies in charge at St Francis Tower? Emily Townsend investigates.
For weeks, this newspaper has been asking Block Management UK Ltd (BMUK), the Sudbury-based firm appointed to manage St Francis Tower, what is being done to ensure people’s safety and wellbeing during upcoming repairs to unsafe cladding.
It is almost a month since we first uncovered conditions at the tower - yet BMUK, which offers property management services up and down the country from Plymouth to Leeds, has stayed silent.
Just over a week ago, we were told the building’s freeholder, Southend-based real estate company RG Securities (No.2) Ltd, was preparing a statement. It is yet to arrive.
It means that neither company has addressed growing concerns in the community about those living in the tower.
Residents say they understand cladding works have to be carried out, after it was alleged the material was “more flammable than Grenfell”.
However, they are desperate to know how long it will take, as living behind plastic starts to take an emotional toll.
They say a message from BMUK appeared on screens in the tower lobby last week suggesting ‘cladding updates’ would be featured there soon, “once we have information from our client”.
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It disappeared after a day, replaced with a PC error screen.
Ipswich MP Tom Hunt said he too had been promised a response but, as of Thursday afternoon, he was yet to receive one.
He is planning to raise the case in parliament as soon as he is able to.
There are two companies linked to the tower, with BMUK appointed as the managing agent.
According to the firm’s website, director David Collinson launched the company back in 2004, from a small London office.
When we first uncovered cladding problems at St Francis Tower in 2018, former Co-op insurance claims handler Simon Matthews - a member of BMUK’s senior management team - spoke to us on several occasions.
He outlined how the firm was communicating with residents and how it was ensuring their safety during initial repairs.
The company even penned an online blog on the topic, explaining how it had handled a complex cladding issue post-Grenfell.
And when leaseholders were asked to help foot a £3.6million repair bill of £21,000 per flat, operations director Mr Matthews was clear that BMUK had kept owners informed at every step of the process.
Meanwhile, RG Securities (No.2) Ltd is a real estate company based in Southend.
Piers De Vigne, Katharine Morshead and Sydney Taylor are listed on Companies House as directors.
According to the website, it is a subsidiary company of Regis Group (Holdings).
Essex-based brothers Peter and Nick Gould, named on the 2020 Sunday Times rich list, are both listed on Companies House as owning more than 25% of Regis Group's shares.
This week, we have followed up requests for responses from both RG Securities (No. 2) and BMUK.
Families living in the tower say they have written to the managing agents but are yet to receive answers to their questions.
Some have also contacted Ipswich Borough Council’s environmental health department to raise concerns about access to natural light and air.
Council bosses said they are yet to receive any formal complaints, so teams have had no need to visit and inspect.
They said the scaffolding was erected to “enable essential fire safety works” and added: “If any resident believes that the works are causing their home to be uninhabitable, they should contact us via email and officers will assess their home against the regulatory criteria.
“If a significant issue is found, then enforcement action will be taken.”
Workers were spotted on site for the first time this week, with repair work expected to involve removal of 45% of the building’s cladding left on after gaping holes were identified around windows.
Why are we reporting on this?
We have been approached by a number of residents in St Francis Tower in recent weeks upset about their current living conditions.
Some claim to have been told by site workers that scaffolding bars are on windows to stop people climbing the side of the building.
The plastic wrap is also understood to be up in preparation for the cladding repairs. It is a material regularly used when constructing buildings.
According to the shrinkwrap’s manufacturer, it is mainly used in the scaffolding business, “protecting and containing the workforce and materials inside of the scaffold from the weather” while “keeping dust, dirt and debris inside of the scaffold”.
The managing agent and freeholder have important questions to answer about the work.
Many tenants say the materials arrived without warning and communication from managing agents has been criticised.
Backed by their MP, residents are demanding urgent clarification on details of the work and proposed timescales.
Both companies are also being asked to make clear what is being done to allay residents’ fears on their current living conditions, such as dimmed lighting in flats and restricted airflow from bolted windows.
- Read more coverage of the cladding crisis on the Archant Investigations Unit Facebook page