Who is behind companies staying silent over St Francis Tower?

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

The freeholder and managing agents of a central Ipswich tower block are facing calls to respond to residents' fears over their living conditions. 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

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.

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

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. 

Block Management UK headquarters in Sudbury. Picture: Block Management UK

Block Management UK headquarters in Sudbury. Picture: Block Management UK - Credit: Block Management UK

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.

David Collinson Managing Director, Block Management UK. Picture: Block Management UK

David Collinson, managing director of Block Management UK. Picture: Block Management UK - Credit: Block Management UK

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.

Simon Matthews, operations director at Block Management UK Ltd Picture: BLOCK MANAGEMENT UK LTD

Simon Matthews, operations director at Block Management UK Ltd Picture: BLOCK MANAGEMENT UK LTD - Credit: BLOCK MANAGEMENT UK LTD

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.

TV screen in St Francis Tower lobby showing a message from BMUK about the cladding

TV screen in St Francis Tower lobby showing a message from BMUK about the cladding. According to residents, it was up for one day last week then disappeared - Credit: CONTRIBUTED

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.

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

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.

Residents have been left in shock after the entirety of St Francis Tower in Ipswich has been wrapped in plastic

Residents have been left in shock after the entirety of St Francis Tower in Ipswich has been wrapped in plastic - Credit: ELLA WILKINSON

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”.

Scaffolding poles with yellow stoppers have been fixed to windows at St Francis Tower

Scaffolding poles with yellow stoppers have been fixed to windows at St Francis Tower - Credit: CAROLINE HAYDON-KNOWELL

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

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