Ipswich tower cladding to be removed

Ipswich tower cladding to be removed

CLADDING ON the St Francis Tower in the city will be removed from next week, in order to ‘mitigate risk’ of a serious fire.

Ipswich Star reported on the impending removal of cladding from the tower in Ipswich, ‘Suffolk’s tallest occupied block of flats’, with the process to begin next week according to the building’s management company Block Management UK Ltd. The company took over the building two years ago, and commissioned fire risk assessments, which found that the cladding should be stripped to ‘mitigate risk’, with residents of the 116 apartments assured that their ‘safety is paramount’.

The process of removing the cladding should take ‘six to eight weeks’, with so called “crash-deck” scaffolding being fitted first, and the company’s director David Collinson stated that ‘where we’re at as of today, effectively, is the cladding is coming off and it’s coming off imminently’, while operations director Simon Matthews explained that the cladding is not the same as was used on Grenfell Tower, but that the decision to remove it is a ‘big one’ for the company’s owner.

He added that it was the ‘combination of the cladding that’s in place, with the insulation, and overall installation’ that was under scrutiny, while a company statement added that ‘resident safety is paramount to Block Management UK Ltd. The tragedy of Grenfell changed everything relating to the safety of residents, particularly those residing in high rise blocks.

‘To date we have implemented every mitigating safety measure that we were advised or instructed to put in place arising from findings of third party reports’. Residents were sent letters about the removal and inviting them to an information meeting next month, with Mr Collinson and Mr Matthews adding that the latest ‘in a long line of detailed correspondence’ meant that ‘from the very start, leaseholders and residents have been kept fully aware’.

There were however ‘no immediate plans’ to replace the cladding, with an ‘extensive review’ to take place once it is removed, and the company said that it welcomed calls, letters and emails from residents, while a member of its team ‘will always be on hand to answer any questions’. A few hours after the Grenfell Tower fire occurred, those in charge of the tower held a meeting to review fire safety, with the block built in 1962 and ‘extensively refurbished’ 12 years ago.

Cladding was sent off for testing by the government, confirming it was not aluminium composite material (ACM), but further checks on the building included an ‘intrusive’ fire risk assessment, a compartmentation report and an examination of the cladding, which altogether concluded the cladding should be removed. ‘Mitigating’ safety measures were installed while awaiting test results, with owners working alongside Ipswich Borough Council and Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS).

These measures included a four man waking watch equipped with air horns to ‘safely simultaneously evacuate people floor by floor; fire extinguishers installed throughout the building; information events and meetings; repair of a damaged external vent to the laundry room; up to date fire action notices posted to all residents; and details of emergency fire procedures ‘clearly displayed’ on notice boards on each floor in different languages.

SFRS’ chief fire officer Mark Hardingham stated that the service has ‘worked closely’ with several high rise owners in Suffolk since Grenfell to offer advice and guidance, and noted: ‘We have been supporting them, and other organisations involved with St Francis Tower, with advice based on the national guidance provided by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.’

A spokesman for Ipswich Borough Council noted in turn that the building owner and management company ‘have worked well’ with the council and SFRS to address the identified issues, and stated: ‘We are monitoring the situation regarding fire safety at St Francis Tower closely and in liaison with SFRS.’