MP: Work goes on to tackle cladding issues on Ipswich’s high-rise buildings

Cardinal Lofts, Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Cardinal Lofts, Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

One of the first speeches I made in Parliament as a newly-elected MP was on the injustice faced by leaseholders at St Francis Tower who have been told they must foot bills of over £25,000 for the replacement of the highly flammable cladding that had been on the tower.

Cardinal Lofts, Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Cardinal Lofts, Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

At the time, the Government had importantly made public funding available for the replacement of the type of ACM cladding found on Grenfell Tower but not for the equally dangerous HPL cladding on St Francis Tower. And making this funding available was a crucial first step towards getting leaseholders out of the nightmare they’ve been living through since 2018 when the fire safety issues were first discovered. These leaseholders haven’t just faced astronomical bills for the replacement of cladding, but they’ve also seen their property prices collapse at the same time. For a number of leaseholders, their flats in the tower represent their savings for retirement or an investment for their future which have essentially been wiped out until the issue is resolved.

Following these lobbying efforts on a wide variety of fronts, it was welcome when the Government announced a £1 billion Building Safety Fund for the removal of non-ACM cladding. This has been far from the end of the issue though. Since then, the Communities and Local Government Committee have pointed out that it’s very unlikely the £1 billion fund will not be enough to cover all the buildings where it’s needed. And further fire safety issues have come to the surface in other buildings in Ipswich.

This is something I’ve been working on directly with leaseholders at Cardinal Lofts and Orwell Quay were issues have surfaced. Leaseholders at Cardinal Lofts recently had a note slipped under their door telling them they’ll now be expected to pay almost £400 per month per flat for a waking watch because a recent fire assessment raised concern about combustible cladding on the top floors. I’ve since met with the management company of Cardinal Lofts, Block Management, to press on them the need to communicate with leaseholders in a clear and personal way.

Paying £400 a month is a huge amount of money. And to let them know about it with a note under the door during a global pandemic, when many are already facing financial hardship is totally wrong. I’ll now be meeting with Block Management on a regular basis so I can continue to be part of this communication. Following my meeting, I understand there will be a range of fire alarms and sensors placed in Cardinal Lofts. But the concern is that leaseholders will be asked to pay for these. And if they’re not installed quickly leaseholders will keep having to pay out for the waking watch. Getting this sorted will be a crucial part of my discussions as well.

Tom Hunt has previously highlighted the injustice faced by leaseholders at St Francis Tower over the payment of replacing...

Tom Hunt has previously highlighted the injustice faced by leaseholders at St Francis Tower over the payment of replacing highly flammable cladding - Credit: Archant

I also raised Cardinal Lofts directly in the House of Commons on Tuesday. I made it clear to the housing minister that one thing that seems to be consistently the case with all these fire safety issues is that it’s leaseholders who get stuck with the consequences of dangerous building work which wasn’t their fault. Ultimately they get stuck between the freeholders and developers who were responsible for putting the dangerous cladding up in the first place, and the hope for Government support which can’t come soon enough, but which may also be insufficient to relieve the immense uncertainty hanging over them. The £1 billion Building Safety Fund for instance doesn’t cover the interim fire safety costs like waking watches often needed while cladding is replaced.

And following my question in the Chamber, I’ll be meeting with the housing minister to discuss what more can be done to give leaseholders more certainty that they won’t continue to face severe financial strain for the dangerous actions of others.

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Fire safety issues have also been brought to my attention at Orwell Quay regarding the existence of dangerous insulation behind the timber cladding on certain blocks, causing leaseholders’ serious concerns about their property prices plummeting and fears they may also be asked to foot the bill for the necessary remediation work. I’m working directly with those who’ve wrote into me about how the developers responsible for this problem can be chased for the costs.

Ultimately, it’s not leaseholders who should be getting bills under the door but those responsible for the dangerous building works. And they should be chased down for this. But leaseholders don’t deserve to be have it hanging over their heads in the meantime, and I’ll keep working with other MPs to raise this up the agenda and make the case the Government should be looking to cover as many costs as possible up front.

? Another focus this week has been the Orwell Bridge and getting a speed limit solution in place to put an end to the vast majority of closures. Highways England have now finally completed the safety validation work needed to give the new variable speed limit the go ahead.

Although I remain frustrated, like so many of my constituents, that Highways England are currently working towards a deadline of the end of March to get it in place.

This marks the end of the winter and the windiest part of the year when Highways England had previously promised it would be implemented before this winter. This is not something I’m ready to sit back and accept and I’m continuing to push Highways England to show more urgency given the immense disruption the Bridge closures cause.

On Tuesday, I met with the roads minister and senior officials from Highways England to underline that time is of the essence in getting this speed limit in place with all the key players in attendance.

And on Thursday, I’ll be holding a special debate in the House of Commons specifically on the Orwell Bridge closures where I’ll be bringing this issue to national attention again. People in Ipswich have been let down too many times over the Orwell Bridge, and the issue deserves a debate in Parliament and all the political energy possible behind it to try to get the speed limit solution in place before the end of the winter.

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