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Tower cladding report unpublished three years later

1 June 2020

RESIDENTS OF Hanover Tower in Broomhall, Sheffield have ‘experienced fear, betrayal, anger, chaos and numerous broken promises’ over the report since the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire.

In August 2018, the tower was named as one of many nationwide that – once combustible cladding has been removed – revealed a ‘catalogue of fire safety failures […] hidden beneath’, with the British Board of Agrément (BBA) identifying that cladding was ‘not the solid aluminium panels agreed with the contractor’ and was combustible. As a result, Sheffield City Council (SCC) removed both the cladding and the insulation.

Later that year in December, the costs for removing and replacing the cladding were reported to be nearly £4m, which broke down as £455,177 for the cost of removal and £2.8m for building works reinstatement, with ‘no plans to reclaim this money from the original installers’ and extra work including installing new cladding and insulation alongside replacing damaged frame elements and ‘making good’ resealing.

In August 2019, former resident Michael Mullin – who had relatives living in the tower - voiced concern about the report into ‘whether the building was unsafe for a period of five years’, as it had ‘yet to be published […] two years after it was promised’. Mr Mullin carried out two years of research into the building’s fire safety, finding that resident safety was ‘put at risk’ between 2012 and 2017.

This was because SCC ‘didn’t know the specification of cladding panels’ installed, and he also claimed South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (SYFRS) had issued its stay put policy ‘during that time’, which meant ‘lives were put at risk’. He also claimed SCC planned to publish the report in 2017, but it had ‘still not been released’, and that a fire test undertaken in July 2017 showed a fire would spread throughout the building, housing 126 residents, ‘in just six minutes’.

In response, SCC claimed it had not carried out a test on the complete wall system, and was instructed by the government to send ‘any suspected aluminium composite material’ to them for testing, with this failing the test and thus replaced. It did not respond on why the report’s publication had been delayed.

The tower was the only Sheffield block to fail the government’s fire safety tests, with residents having been told to stay put between 2012 and 2017 – the period when it was ‘masked with’ what Mr Mullins said was ‘unsafe cladding’. SYFRS responded by noting that the council had already carried out work to ‘ensure the internal fire resistance between flats was suitable and sufficient’, while inspection officers ‘were satisfied that the compartmentation between flats was satisfactory’.

In January this year, despite having waited for over two years for the report, an objection meant it was delayed further (http://www.frmjournal.com/news/news_detail.cladding-report-delayed-again.html), and Examiner Live has reported that three years after the building first failed cladding safety tests, residents ‘are still waiting for answers as to how it all went wrong’, with top floor resident and tenants and residents association (TARA) member John Cawthorne stating that ‘I felt betrayed.

‘It caused a lot of fear, quite a lot of people were very, very frightened. Some people were just glad to see it gone and a few moved out altogether. We were sat there ages waiting for it to be put back on and in the meantime, questions were being asked about how we ended up in this position’.

With SCC removing the cladding and launching an investigation ‘into why the wrong material was used’, works took two years ‘during which time residents said they suffered damp, cold, noise from drilling and banging and leaks into the top floor flats’. SCC had ‘repeatedly failed to meet promises made about when the investigation into the report will be published’, with councillor Paul Wood’s commitment in January that it would be released ‘within the next few weeks’ something that ‘did not happen’.

Mr Cawthorne said that ‘I feel like they have been waving paper in front of my face and p[***]ing in my pocket. It’s disappointing but not surprising’. Councillor Angela Argenzio said that ‘residents’ trust in the local authority had completely’ broken and that she was ‘outraged’, adding: ‘People are really disheartened, they roll their eyes when yet another promise is made and some are really angry.

‘There are some conspiracy theories floating around because there is no clarity or trust anymore. They’ve lost faith in the council, residents are really fed up. The delays are making people paranoid. People want closure, they want to put it behind them but until the report is published they can’t. They also want reassurance that their homes are safe now and part of human nature is they want someone to blame for it.

‘People on that estate already have to put up with poor conditions, I sometimes think if this had been on a more affluent part of the ward, would the report have had so many delays?’

Mr Cawthorne also said that SCC were ‘pleasant and nice’ to start with ‘but now ignore their emails’, while three different cabinet members have been responsible for housing over three years. A meeting was held to give residents ‘the opportunity to quiz the council’, but locals ‘hit out’ at this because ‘the way it was organised restricted many from attending’.

Councillor Kaltum Rivers pointed out it had taken place in a building across the estate ‘most residents were not even aware of’, and ‘as a consequence few people turned up’. She stated: ‘This made me quite angry and upset. They completely marginalised the residents and only a handful of people turned up and those handful of people were the TARA who obviously live there but who are running the TARA but when I looked around there were only three or four other residents – one of whom I took there.’

She also added that one translator was present but ‘would not have been able to interpret all the different languages of those who live there if more people came’, with SCC criticised for being ‘lazy’ when Mr Wood suggested residents use Google Translate to read the entire report ‘when it is released’.

Claims were made that the report is held up as investigators wait on minutes from a meeting where the change of cladding was decided, which Mr Cawthorne said could be the ‘final piece of the puzzle’, but original contractor Lovells said – when asked if it had cooperated with SCC – that ‘we have fully cooperated with [SCC] and their advisers on all matters in relation to Hanover Tower. We have not seen the report so are unable to comment on why it has been delayed and not published’.

On being asked why the report was delayed and ‘if it was informed of the change of cladding’, Mr Wood responded: ‘This is a complex report and we have had to go back 10 years to source documents and information. We’ve also had to speak with a number of people including residents from that time. The work to get the report ready for publication would have completed by now but had to stop to deal with our response to covid-19. 

‘As soon as we can properly re-direct resource we will complete that work and agree with the tenants the most suitable way to share the findings with them before making the report public.’

In response, Ms Rivers said this was ‘not good enough’, and added : ‘I feel like some people are using the coronavirus as an excuse – although the report is not an emergency to most it is an emergency to those people who are living there.’

Tower cladding report unpublished three years later