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Cladding to be stripped from tower block amid safety fears after Grenfell

PUBLISHED: 05:00 09 August 2018 | UPDATED: 11:29 09 August 2018

Cladding is being removed from St Francis Tower in Ipswich  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Cladding is being removed from St Francis Tower in Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Archant

Material known as ‘cladding’ will be removed from Suffolk’s tallest occupied block of flats over safety fears prompted by the Grenfell Tower tragedy, we can reveal today.

Risk assessments carried out after the Grenfell tragedy recommended the cladding be removed at St Francis Tower Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNRisk assessments carried out after the Grenfell tragedy recommended the cladding be removed at St Francis Tower Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

It is due to be stripped from the 17-storey St Francis Tower in Ipswich from next week, management company bosses told this newspaper.

Fire assessments commissioned by Block Management UK Ltd, which took over the building in 2016, and the building’s owner concluded the cladding should be stripped to “mitigate risk”.

Bosses are continuing to reassure people living in the tower – which has 116 apartments ranging from studios to one bedroom flats – that their safety is paramount.

The removal process is expected to take six to eight weeks – and ‘crash-deck’ scaffolding is going up at the building, in Franciscan Way, next week.

“Where we’re at as of today, effectively, is the cladding is coming off and it’s coming off imminently,” said director David Collinson. Operations director Simon Matthews explained the decision to remove the cladding – which is not the ACM material found on Grenfell Tower – is a “big one” for the owner, whom the firm is speaking on behalf of.

“I can tell you it’s not ACM (aluminium composite material) cladding, however, the combination of the cladding that’s in place, with the insulation, and overall installation, is in question,” he said.

A statement from the company added: “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.

It also states: “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.”

Letters were sent out to everyone living in the tower block late last week, telling them the cladding was coming off – and inviting them to an information meeting in September.

Mr Collinson and Mr Matthews explained this was the latest communication in a long line of detailed correspondence, adding: “From the very start, leaseholders and residents have been kept fully aware.”

They have no immediate plans to replace the cladding, but said an extensive review will take place once it is removed.

An inquiry is currently being carried out to establish the circumstances of the Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed the lives of 72 people Picture: DAVID MIRZOEFF/PA WIREAn inquiry is currently being carried out to establish the circumstances of the Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed the lives of 72 people Picture: DAVID MIRZOEFF/PA WIRE

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.

What should people do if they have concerns?

Block Management UK Ltd said they welcome calls, letters and emails – adding that a member of their team will always be on hand to answer any questions.

They also invited them along to another meeting about the situation in September.

Bosses have kept residents up to date Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNBosses have kept residents up to date Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

What kind of safety assessments were carried out at the Suffolk tower after Grenfell?

Hours after news of the Grenfell tragedy broke, bosses in charge of St Francis Tower held a meeting to review safety there.

It is Suffolk’s tallest residential tower block, at a height of approximately 172ft. Built in 1962, it was extensively refurbished 12 years ago.

Officials then had cladding from St Francis Tower sent off for testing within two weeks of the service being offered by the government and their approved testing facility, the BRE.

Tests came back confirming the material was not ACM, which was found on Grenfell.

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

However, chiefs followed further national guidance by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and commissioned further assessments. These included an intrusive fire risk assessment, internal fire ‘compartmentation’ reports and cladding system examinations. All of these were carried out by third party, BRE-audited contractors.

Together, these reports concluded the cladding on St Francis Tower should be removed, to mitigate risk.

Action taken at St Francis Tower since Grenfell tragedy

The management company responsible for monitoring St Francis Tower put a number of “mitigating safety measures” in place while it was waiting for risk assessment results to return.

Working closely with Ipswich Borough Council and Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service, examples of action taken include:

Suffolk's chief fire officer Mark Hardingham. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCILSuffolk's chief fire officer Mark Hardingham. Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

• Four man waking watch installed – fully qualified staff carrying air horns put in place to safely simultaneously evacuate people floor by floor

• Fire extinguishers put in place throughout building

• Meetings and information events held with people living at the tower and leaseholders

• Bin store fire doors replaced by made-to-measure fire doors and fitted frames

• Damaged external vent to laundry room repaired

• Up-to-date fire action notices posted to all letter boxes and leaseholders

St Francis Tower, Ipswich  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNSt Francis Tower, Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

• Details of emergency fire procedures clearly displayed on notice boards on each floor, translated into different languages.

What are the fire service and council chiefs doing to help?

Work at St Francis Tower is being carried out with several authorities, including the fire service and borough council.

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS)’s chief fire officer Mark Hardingham said his team have worked closely with owners of several high rise buildings in the county since Grenfell, to offer advice and guidance.

Outlining their role in the St Francis Tower case, he said: “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.”

People at the tower were told the news about the cladding removal in a letter  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNPeople at the tower were told the news about the cladding removal in a letter Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

A spokesman for Ipswich Borough Council said to date, the building’s owner and management company have worked well with authorities to address issues identified by independent tests.

He added: “We are monitoring the situation regarding fire safety at St Francis Tower closely and in liaison with SFRS.”

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