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‘I feel like if I leave my home I won’t be coming back’: Families kicked out of homes over fire safety issues

People living at Cardinal Lofts in Ipswich were told to leave their homes and head to hotels on Tuesday with no notice

Alex Dickin Cardinal Lofts Ipswich building safety crisis

Alex Dickin, who set up campaign group Ipswich Cladiators, said it was an "extreme shock" for residents to find out they had to leave their homes. Image: Supplied

Families in a nine-storey apartment block caught up in the post-Grenfell building safety crisis were ordered to leave their homes with no notice after more fire safety issues were discovered.

People living at Cardinal Lofts in Ipswich, Suffolk, were told to vacate the building on Tuesday afternoon after receiving a letter from property managers telling them surveys had uncovered further defects.

A total of 15 flats in the top three floors of the building had already been evacuated in November and now residents in the remaining 65 flats have been told they will be living in hotels until temporary accommodation could be found.

The move has understandably not gone down well and some have refused to leave until they have a timescale of how long they will be out of their homes.

Alex Dickin, who rents out a property on the fifth floor and set up campaign group Ipswich Cladiators, said: “We were very switched on and aware that anything like this could happen but it’s still an extreme shot to everyone involved whether you’re a resident or a leaseholder.

“I saw families with two or three children leaving the building yesterday with their suitcases and taking their prams down the stairs and other residents who have pets as well.

Cardinal Lofts Ipswich building safety crisis
Cardinal Lofts has been fitted with fire alarms and a waking watch patrol has been introduced in recent years following the discovery of fire defects. Image: Alex Healing / Flickr

“Residents have refused to leave and as a leaseholder and a campaigner I would fully support their actions because they’ve not been given a clear, concrete time of when they are able to return home. It could literally be a year if not longer.”

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Claire Hamblion, 49, is one of the residents who has refused to move. She told The Big Issue she is refusing to leave the property until she has been assured she will receive like-for-like accommodation.

“I was sat at my desk at work and received an email telling me I needed to vacate my home so you can imagine that I was kind of pretty shocked. I was physically shaking, I felt sick,” said the marketing director, who has lived at the property for nine years.

“There was very little definite information about what was going to happen next, apart from you need to get out immediately, and we’re going to put you up in a hotel. I just feel if I leave my home, I won’t ever be coming back. That’s how it feels. I’m really fearful of that.

Cardinal Lofts Ipswich building safety crisis
Claire Hamblion said she wouldn’t leave her home without the promise of like-for-like accommodation and a timescale for repairs to be completed. Image: Supplied

“Ironically the building is safer today than it was when I moved here nine years ago because we’ve now got fire alarms in all the flats. I really don’t know what the future holds for me. It’s a hideous nightmare and I just can’t believe this is happening.”

Emily Jones, 27, moved to a hotel on Tuesday evening.

Jones, who works at a bakery, said she was sharing the room with partner Jason Jackaman, 32, who is using the space as a makeshift office for his IT job.

Emily Jones and Jason Jackaman moved to a hotel after being told to evacuate the building. Image: Supplied

“I came straight home from work because I wanted to know answers to basic things like: do I defrost my freezer? I left with basically some clothes and personal possessions,” said Jones. 

“When I got to the hotel there were families with young children arriving that evening with bin bags full of clothes. It was horrific to see that. Young children not knowing what was going on. 

“I was kind of like: what on earth do I do? It’s very frustrating because they keep saying that this is new information to them but we’ve been going through this nightmare for three years. This really is just another thorn in the side. It’s been pretty hellish not knowing what’s coming, whether that’s a life-changing bill, whether that’s a fire.”

The letter sent to residents from Principle Estate Management, which manages the property on behalf of the freeholder Grey GR, said the latest surveys uncovered fire safety defects related to the internal compartmentation of the building that “could not have been known prior to these intrusive investigations”.

The letter added: “We understand this is difficult for residents, however we appreciate their cooperation with these evacuations… We are sorry the situation at Cardinal Lofts has escalated. This decision has not been taken lightly, however, resident safety is our main concern.”

Freeholder Grey GR is owned by Railpen, the pension fund for railways workers.

A spokesperson for Grey GR told The Big Issue: “We are in direct contact with leaseholders and are providing on the ground support to residents during this difficult time. We have immediately organised hotels and meals for all residents, and we are looking to source suitable longer-term accommodation, while we expedite all remediation works. We will continue to communicate as further updates become available and wish to do all that we can to ease the understandable distress this will cause.   

“We are working with our project team to determine next steps. All decisions made will be in the best interests and safety of residents, and in accordance with the advice of the Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service. We are also in direct contact with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and we are providing key updates to the local MP.” 

Cardinal Lofts is among scores of buildings in the UK that have been caught up in the building safety crisis in the six years since the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Housing secretary Michael Gove has been pressuring housing developers to repair buildings and cover the cost of remediation.

Last year the government agreed a building safety pledge with 49 of the largest developers in the country, committing homebuilders to fixing life-critical fire safety defects in buildings over 11 metres in height.

That has now been backed up with a legally binding remediation contract that developers are expected to sign by mid-March.

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However, Gove warned Grey GR and Railpen on Wednesday that he expected repairs to be fixed urgently. 

“The safety of residents must be the top priority. This is not the first time Grey GR and Railpen have badly let down people living in their buildings. They must fix them urgently, so that people can get back in their homes,” said Gove.

“Our new laws are clear. The liability is clear. Our intention and commitment to prosecute those who do not do the right thing is clear. I have now instructed action this day from our lawyers.”

Cardinal Lofts Ipswich building safety crisis
Ipswich MP Tom Hunt visited Cardinal Lofts last year to meet with residents. Image: Ipswich Cladiators

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt told The Big Issue he was working with residents to get like-for-like accommodations and compensation for their upheaval.

“The situation at Cardinal Lofts is appalling, and it seems little has been learnt from last autumn. Again, we have a number of my constituents being told with no notice they need to leave their homes with no certainty at all over timescales,” said Hunt. 

“The scale of the defects are such that I think the works could take a long time. If this is so, we will most likely need more compensation than just the cost of temporary accommodation.

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