Woman describes 'chaotic scenes' as residents told to leave Cardinal Loft flats immediately

The top three floors of Cardinal Lofts were evacuated last year due to safety concerns. Credit: ITV News Anglia

A woman has described the chaos and upset when people living in a block of flats were told they should leave their homes immediately due to fire safety concerns.

People living in the nine-storey Cardinal Lofts in Ipswich, Suffolk, were emailed by an estate management company on Tuesday telling them to go.

The email to residents of Cardinal Lofts said surveys had identified fire safety concerns and “concluded that the property is no longer safe for occupation”.

The email continued: “Based on the latest information received, a full evacuation of the property is required.”

'It's just been horrific', says resident Claire Hamblion

Claire Hamblion, a marketing director who moved into the block nine years ago, said the email telling residents to evacuate came as a "huge shock".

“I was literally shaking, felt sick, didn’t really know what to do,” said the 49-year-old, who is the owner-occupier of a flat on the first floor.

“It was fairly chaotic scenes of people very upset, very confused, people didn’t know what to do.

“Basically they were telling people they needed to leave their homes immediately and they would put people up in hotel accommodation.”

Ms Hamblion said she has refused to leave, saying she has seen “no clear timescales” of what work will happen or how long she would be out of her home.

She said new alarms have been fitted in the block and she is confident that “if there was a fire somewhere that system would trigger and I would know fairly quickly and I would be able to get out”.

Father-of-four Viv Sharma, who lives in a flat on the top floor, also said it was “chaos” on Tuesday night and the following morning.

The 56-year-old, a director at a logistics company, said he has lived in the building for 14 years and there is a six-man, round-the-clock waking-watch system and an alarm system.

“It probably is unsafe but it’s not unsafer (sic) than it has been for the last 14 years,” he said.

“I accept that they want to do the work and we are willing to move but we’re not going to be treated the way they treat others.”

He said residents received requests for service charges just days before the email about the full evacuation, saying it “leaves a bad taste in your mouth”.

He said they are “trapped”, adding: “We can’t sell the property, we can’t leverage against it, your whole life is put on hold.”

Communities Secretary Michael Gove, writing on Twitter on Wednesday, said it is “not the first time (freeholders) Grey GR and (their owners, £37 billion railway pension fund) 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 Mr Gove.

A Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said the service had concerns over fire safety at Cardinal Lofts.

They said that in November 2022 it issued a prohibition notice for the top three floors to be evacuated, noting there was a single staircase to those floors.

The spokesman said this week’s instruction to evacuate the whole building was from Grey GR, not the fire service, but it does “support the decision”.

A Grey GR spokesperson said: “We are sincerely sorry to residents and understand how upsetting this news is, however their safety is our utmost priority and we aim to be able to return them to safer homes as soon as possible.”

It comes more than five years after the Grenfell Tower blaze in 2017 killed 72 people and exposed risks nationwide.