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'Volcanic rock' style material could replace tower block cladding

PUBLISHED: 16:39 08 April 2019 | UPDATED: 10:30 09 April 2019

Cladding has been taken off St Francis Tower in Franciscan Way, Ipswich Picture: RACHEL EDGE

Cladding has been taken off St Francis Tower in Franciscan Way, Ipswich Picture: RACHEL EDGE

Rachel Edge

Cladding on an Ipswich tower block is being replaced and the new material could be fitted later this year, we can reveal.

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

Spun from volcanic rock, a substance called Rockwool is the preferred option planned for St Francis Tower, the building’s property managers have said.

Workers have been removing the existing material over the last six months, after post-Grenfell tests found safety risks in the current system.

Now, more light has been shed on what will replace it.

Which material could replace the cladding, and why is it better?

“The plan is to wrap the building using a ‘Rockwool render’ system, it’s one of the only products on the market which is fire retardant and thermally efficient,” said Simon Matthews, operations director at Block Management UK Ltd, which has managed the 17-storey tower since 2016.

New material is expected to re-clad the Ipswich-based tower block later this year Picture: RACHEL EDGENew material is expected to re-clad the Ipswich-based tower block later this year Picture: RACHEL EDGE

“You can’t burn it, it’s non-combustible.”

Often sourced from volcanic islands such as the Canaries, this kind of Rockwool insulation is made from volcanic material spun in drums – a bit like candyfloss, Mr Matthews said.

It creates the same process that occurs at the heart of a volcano, and can tolerate extremely high temperatures – up to 1000C – and does not burn.

The Rockwool is then wrapped in a ‘render’, which is the material which can be seen from the outside.

Each element of the system (similar to the one shown in the diagram above) will be made from fire proof materials, which have passed safety tests.

It would comprise of six parts:

A reflection of St Francis Tower in the Willis building  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNA reflection of St Francis Tower in the Willis building Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

• The wall/façade

• Scrim adhesive

• Rockwool insulation

• Scrim adhesive

• Reinforcement mesh

• Mineral render

The new system should be similar to this diagram. All will be made from fire proof materials, and Mr Matthews said all fire safety tests have been passed for each Picture: ROCKWOOL/BLOCK MANAGEMENT UK LTDThe new system should be similar to this diagram. All will be made from fire proof materials, and Mr Matthews said all fire safety tests have been passed for each Picture: ROCKWOOL/BLOCK MANAGEMENT UK LTD

“This new system could go on towards the end of the year,” Mr Matthews added.

No firm dates are available yet.

The new cladding will need to conform with the look of the neighbouring Grade II listed Willis building, according to English Heritage.

People living in the tower have been sent letters informing them of the plans to re-clad their building.

Why has a small amount of cladding been left on the tower?

Some of the original material is still attached to the building, which Mr Matthews said is because workers ran into problems with gaps and holes behind the cladding.

One landlord, who did not want to be named, previously raised concerns about this.

“I’m glad most of it is off if it was a fire risk, but some of it is still on there,” he said.

“From talking to some of the scaffolders, they say it’s because there are holes behind the cladding.

“It does concern me and my tenants have come to me with lots of questions I feel I can’t really answer yet.

“It’s all a bit up in the air about what will happen next.

He added: “I hope they find something else to put on it soon.”

However, property managers hope residents feel safer now with the rollout of sprinkler, fire alarm and smoke vent systems in the block.

“Although a small amount of cladding is still on the building, it is one of the safest blocks in Ipswich now,” Mr Matthews said.

“Each flat has a sprinkler system, and we’ve also now got fire alarm and smoke vent systems throughout.”

What happens now?

Scaffolding will go up again at the Franciscan Way site in due course.

No firm dates have been revealed yet, but we will update you when we find out.

In the meantime, watch workers stripping cladding off the Ipswich tower block, read more about why it is coming off, and see how much flat owners are paying for the safety upgrades.

People wanting to know more about what this means for them can contact Block Management on 01473 558583.

MORE: ‘We’re in limbo’ – Pair want answers over future of cladding on flats

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