Cardinal Lofts: Angry residents confront fire bosses after tower block partially evacuated

Viv Sharma, 56, and Julia Sharma, 49, confronting Suffolk Fire area manager Toby Gray. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Angry homeowners have confronted fire officers after they were told they had to leave their flats late at night because they were considered a safety risk.

Fifteen flats at Cardinal Lofts in Ipswich were evacuated late on Tuesday, with residents informed by fire officers knocking on their doors at 10pm and telling them to pack belongings and medication for the next 24 hours.

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service said it had received a report from the company which manages the building and had identified issues which it deemed a serious fire safety risk, and ordered the evacuation of the homes on the top three floors of the nine-storey building.

Among those to be ordered out by fire officers were Viv Sharma, 56, and Julia Sharma, 49, who have lived in the building for 14 years.

They refused to leave on Tuesday, saying they could not wake their five-year-old son so late, and quizzed fire officers who visited Cardinal Lofts the following morning.

"Obviously we were pretty shocked. It is quite devastating - especially at that time of the night," Mr Sharma told ITV News Anglia.

"We had just put our son, who is five, to bed and we told them we can't leave tonight but we will leave tomorrow, because I'm not going to wake up my five-year-old. He's got to go to school tomorrow."

Cardinal Lofts has been the centre of a cladding issue for years Credit: ITV News Anglia

People living on the top three floors were told to leave their homes after Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service said it had received a report that led them to conclude that floors seven to nine of Cardinal Lofts were no longer safe.

Fifteen apartments were affected and people were taken to a nearby sports hall to spend the night.

The building has been at the centre of long-running concerns over fire safety and cladding, dating back to the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017.

Viv and Julia Sharma have no idea how long they will be housed in temporary accommodation. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Mrs Sharma said she could not understood why residents were told to leave so soon when the issue of fire safety had been ongoing for years.

"It is really frustrating, you feel like you're homeless, all of sudden at 10 o'clock in the evening someone is telling you to leave the house because it is dangerous for you but you know about this danger - its been ongoing for years. This is so frustrating it's literally like beyond any understanding."

The management company, Grey GR, told ITV News Anglia that it had identified fire safety issues as part of its ongoing efforts to improve the property, and notified the fire service.

It added that the issue was a defect with the building’s automatic opening vents - and because the top three floors at Cardinal Lofts are served by just a single stairway, these apartments were more at risk.

Toby Gray, area manager for Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service said the measures taken by management had "not adequately addressed the risks posed to the upper three floors of the property".

He added that it was "in the best interest of residents in these apartments to be temporarily rehoused as a precautionary measure". 

Claire Hamblion, 49, says she now fears for her safety and is struggling to sell her flat because of the cladding issue. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Claire Hamblion, 49, who has lived in a first-floor apartment for eight years, told ITV News Anglia that she felt she was "trapped in a living nightmare".

"I'm fearful. Fearful of fire, fearful of what could happen. Fearful that I could lose my home and be made homeless, the same as the people living on the top three floors," she said.

"We've had no clear information from the management company. We just don't know where we stand and what's going to happen next. Sleeping at night is pretty tricky right now. I don't feel safe living here.

"I feel terrible for my neighbours who've had to leave their homes and I'm left here just thinking whats going to happen next? Am I safe? What happens if there's a fire? It's terrifying."

Fire safety teams on site at Cardinal Lofts today. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt said he was deeply concerned by the partial evacuation and that he had written to the Housing Secretary, Michael Gove, to highlight the issue.

Management company Grey GR said it had done a review of fire safety on Monday and "became aware of a heightened fire safety risk", immediately informing the fire service and putting safety measures in place.

"These include following the fire authority's instruction to temporarily rehouse residents on the building’s top three floors, and establishing a six-person waking watch for the building’s lower floors, effective immediately," said a spokesman, who apologised to residents.

"While we work to resolve these issues as quickly as possible, we recognise there will be concern and disruption for residents.

"We’re looking to minimise this, including arranging appropriate temporary housing for those being asked to vacate their homes."

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