Hanover Tower

RESIDENTS OF Hanover Tower reacted to the report, released three years after an investigation into combustible cladding on the 118 flat, 15 storey block.

In August 2018, the tower was named as one of many nationwide that – once combustible aluminium composite material (ACM) 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, and it was then reported that residents ‘are still waiting for answers’. In June, hopes were raised after SCC said that it was ‘ready to release’ the report. However, in August SCC had ‘still not given a date’ for its release.

The Star has now reported however that the report has been released, revealing that residents ‘were put at risk by combustible cladding for more than a decade’. The report looked into why the block was ‘different to all other council tower blocks in the city, who authorised it, what, if any, steps were taken to ensure it was safe and why the council’s building control team did not inspect the material when it was put on’.

The report’s delay in being published was ‘partly caused’ by SCC assessing whether it could make legal claims against those involved ‘despite previously stating it would not make claims’, finding that these would be unsuccessful. Emails, planning applications and drawings were studied, but the report said that ‘not all the contemporaneous documentation relating to the build project was held or retained by the council. It is not possible to say with certainty what is missing’.

This includes electronic staff records for those working on the project who no longer work for the council, as well as project management information ‘deleted in 2015’. SCC had ‘partly blamed’ the ‘lack of clarity’ in its decision on this, but ‘numerous emails’ referenced in the report showed officers ‘were aware of ACM being proposed’.

No information was found ‘illustrating if steps were taken’ to check cladding safety before installation, while it ‘is unknown when it was decided to swap’ to ACM, but emails referred to this ‘as early as 2010’. Emails between contractor Lovell Eastern and subcontractors showed there were ‘budget issues’ and efforts to cut costs on cladding, but the report said that ‘cost benefits were incidental to its choice, not the reason for it’.

Subcontractor Alumet said in one email, responding to a question about cost savings’, that ‘on Hanover however, we offered a more economic ACM product because it suited the application better and has strength, flatness, weight and price advantages’. Resident John Cawthorne stated: ‘ don’t think there is a conspiracy here. I think there is ineptitude, a lack of attention to detail, sloppiness, poor record keeping and maximisation of profit by doing something easy and cheap.

‘It needs a public apology to everybody. There are people who left because they were so scared, they haven’t done that lightly. For some people it really freaked them out. Even now people will still ask if it’s safe now. There are several people for whom it really messed with their head, the disturbance, upset and worry all compounded.’

Local Green Party councillors urged SCC to pay compensation to residents, ‘discipline officers and learn lessons’, with Kaltum Rivers commenting: ‘Despite the length of time involved in the production of this report, residents are still left with the distinct impression the same mistakes could be made again. The lack of accountability for the errors, oversights and apparent omissions from the various partners and council officers throughout the course of the project is astounding and utterly unacceptable.’

Angela Argenzio called the report was ‘disappointing’ and ‘superficial’, stating that it ‘did not answer key questions about why the cladding was swapped and who decided to swap it’. She added: ‘Most people just want to move on and put it behind them but unfortunately one, they don’t have answers and two, they are still dealing with the aftermath of having the cladding replaced.

‘What should come out of this is how can we ensure this doesn’t happen again, our officers ask the right questions and the safety of people is paramount and above savings and personal interests. My ward has some of the most deprived areas in Sheffield and some very affluent areas, in the back of my mind there is always the question: would this have happened in a more affluent part of my ward?

‘I have a gut feeling it wouldn’t have. People wouldn’t have thought they could get away with it. We have to get to the point we can really trust everybody in the council to do the right thing for the people they are supposed to serve. Something has gone wrong somewhere and we need to make sure it never happens again.’

Paul Wood, cabinet member for community safety at the council, said: ‘We apologised to Hanover residents about how long it took for us to complete this investigation and to produce the report. It involved checking records that went back over a long period of time which made the investigation harder. We’re looking forward with the residents now though. We met with the tenants and residents association this week and with all the local councillors today to look at what’s needed at Hanover in the coming months.

‘We’ve offered to meet with all residents as well to discuss future plans. Hanover’s residents have been through a lot and what they have said is important to them now is a good and timely council response to repairs and maintenance at Hanover and we intend to make sure that this happens.”

A Lovell Eastern spokesperson said: ‘We have fully cooperated with [SCC] and their advisers in relation to Hanover Tower and are pleased that their investigation has now been concluded. We note the content of the report that has now been published. The refurbishment works to Hanover Tower were designed and built fully in accordance with our building contract. The specific cladding product referenced in the report was selected by [SCC] prior to Lovell being contracted to carry out the relevant works.’