Revealed – Flat owners to foot £2.4m tower block safety bill triggered by Grenfell
- Credit: Archant
Flat owners in a Suffolk tower block are being billed £2.4million for safety upgrades triggered by the Grenfell tragedy, we can reveal today.
Leaseholders at the 17-storey St Francis Tower in Ipswich will be charged £21,000 per flat, management company bosses have confirmed.
In a move exclusively revealed by this newspaper in August, workers started taking cladding off the building – among the highest in Suffolk at 172ft – after safety tests prompted by Grenfell found flaws.
The bill – which could rise even further – is a “bitter pill to swallow”, claim bosses at Block Management UK Ltd (BMUK), who said they can demand the cash by law but are doing it correctly by getting quotes.
Owners of the block’s 116 flats were informed at a recent meeting, which management company chiefs said was open and honest.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow because – and this is the crux of it – the leaseholders do have to pay,” said operations director Simon Matthews.
“As you might expect [it] didn’t go down very well, there were a lot of unhappy people and a lot of awkward questions.”
He added: “We could have hidden behind the lease, sent the demands out, all the paperwork and buried our heads in the sand, but we didn’t.”
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How will the £2.4m be paid, and what will it pay for?
The £2.4m figure is worked out using actual estimates, but could rise depending on how future works pan out.
“We don’t know what the absolute precise figure will be at the end of it all but we have to demand a certain amount,” Mr Matthews added.
The building’s owner will pay most of the cash up front, says BMUK, speaking on their behalf.
“If they didn’t, the decision could possibly have to be made to re-house, evacuate, what have you, and people are in an even worse position because they are not getting that rental income,” Mr Matthews said.
Eventually, though, leaseholders will have to pay unless they come to an arrangement with insurers.
Their money will be used to pay for the standard service charge for flats, including their contribution towards facilities and insurance.
But it will also be used to meet the cost of “mitigating safety risks” such as staff employed to evacuate the building in case of an emergency - known as a “waking watch” - reports, investigations and cladding removal plus future works.
MORE: Watch cladding coming off St Francis TowerWhat type of cladding is on the building?
Mr Matthews revealed the cladding on the building was a high pressure laminate-style material called Trespa Meteon – different to the ACM (aluminium composite material) on Grenfell.
At the time St Francis Tower was built, the fire-rated version of Trespa was to legislation at the time – however, the building is clad with the non-fire rated material.
Helen Pluck, Ipswich Borough Council’s chief operating officer, said the authority was comfortable with current arrangements and reassured of residents’ safety.
“It’s about how that particular cladding has been applied, and the other products that it’s used with, so it’s the whole system as opposed to a single product,” she added.
“It’s about the combination of the different materials and how they have been applied to this particular building that we are no longer satisfied with.”
Are residents safe?
From the very beginning, BMUK bosses have reassured residents of their safety and kept them updated.
Paul Goodman, of Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service, said fire chiefs were comfortable with BMUK’s current action plan – which aims to have the cladding removed by Christmas and sprinkler system/internal works started by spring – adding: “It [the tower] is getting safer by the day.”
He added: “We’ve got legislation and we are the enforcing authority.
“At this time we haven’t chosen to take any legal action or enforcement action in fact.
“It’s very much been working with them [BMUK], we’re getting the results that we want at the moment.”
Ms Pluck said IBC was comfortable with current arrangements and reassured of residents’ safety.
Will the cladding be replaced?
No firm decision has yet been made about replacing the cladding.
Backed by Suffolk fire chiefs, BMUK – which took over the running of the building in 2016 – is exploring the possibility of rolling out a new sprinkler system and making internal changes to the building.
Fire safety in the block is currently managed using a ‘stay put and defend in place’ system.
This means if there was a fire in a flat the occupier can leave to raise the alarm - and once the door is closed the blaze will be contained for 60 minutes.
But Mr Matthews said there were parts of the building, around some flats and communal areas, where it could not be guaranteed doors would contain a blaze for an hour.
“Hence, there is now an evacuation procedure, the waking watch (four staff ready to evacuate in the event of a fire),” he said.
“The main part of their job is to evacuate, they are like a walking fire alarm system but better.
“But this can’t be a permanent measure, obviously.”
Mr Goodman said residents’ initial reaction to the introduction of a new sprinkler system – which would cause some disruption but not as much as a full restructure – had been largely positive.
Day of action
Organisations involved in boosting safety at St Francis Tower recently had a day of action at the block.
Fire and council bosses inspected 89 of the 116 flats, giving advice and making checks to ensure safety is maximised in people’s homes.
Letters went out to inspected flats while remaining residents are due to be sent a joint letter giving them a few pointers – urging them to check their fire alarm system and not to overload sockets.
And council bosses are reassuring people there are no current plans to evacuate the building. But this is being kept under review.
“At the moment there is no plan to do that,” said Ms Pluck.
“All the agencies involved are comfortable that the waking watch and the steps that the owners and the management agents are taking are improving safety to a point where it can be managed.”
An inquiry examining the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the fire at Grenfell Tower on June 14, 2017 is currently under way.
The tragedy claimed the lives of 72 people.