Resident living at Sheffield tower block fitted with dangerous cladding blames decision on 'maximisation of profit' and 'inepitude' as report is released
‘We need to make sure this never happens again’, is the message to Sheffield Council following the release of a three year investigation into dangerous cladding put on a tower block.
Hundreds of residents at Hanover Tower, on Exeter Drive, Broomhall, were put at risk by combustible cladding for half a decade.
After years of delays that made many mistrust the council and some ‘paranoid’, the findings of the investigation were finally revealed.
John Cawthorne, who has lived there for 30 years and served on the tenants and residents association for 25, said: “I 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.”
The 118-flat fifteen-storey twin tower block was the last to be refurbished as part of Sheffield’s biggest housing improvement scheme in 2009.
At the time, residents were consulted and told safe aluminium material would be used.
But years later government lab tests - introduced in the wake of the Grenfell disaster in 2017 - exposed it as a cheaper aluminium composite material with ‘no flame retardant properties’.
The council removed it that year and began replacing it with solid aluminium cladding.
Mr Cawthorne said since then residents successfully pushed for other fire safety hazards on the stairwell and fire doors to be removed too.
An investigation launched to establish why it 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.
Delays to its release were partly caused by the council assessing if it could make legal claims against those involved, despite previously stating it would not make claims, and found it would be unsuccessful.
Investigators drew from various documents including emails, planning applications and drawings but said: “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.”
Missing information includes electronic records of staff who worked on the project but no longer work for the council and project management information relating to the housing scheme deleted in 2015.
This was partly blamed for a lack of clarity on the council’s role in the decision but there are numerous emails referenced in the report showing council officers were aware of ACM being proposed.
The investigation also failed to find any information illustrating if steps were taken to check the safety of the cladding before it was put on.
It is unknown when it was decided to swap the cladding but there were email references to it as early as 2010.
Other emails between Lovell, contractor, and subcontractors show there were 'budget issues' and efforts to cut costs on cladding but the report stated ‘cost benefits were incidental to its choice, not the reason for it’.
In one, Alumet, subcontractor, when responding to a question about cost savings, said to Lovell: “On Hanover however, we offered a more economic ACM product because it suited the application better and has strength, flatness, weight and price advantages.”
In light of the findings, Green Party councillors representing the ward urged the council to pay compensation to residents, discipline officers and learn lessons from the saga.
Councillor Kaltum Rivers, representative for Broomhill and Sharrow Vale, said: “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.”
Fellow ward councillor Angela Argenzio said the report was ‘disappointing’ and ‘superficial’ and did not answer key questions about why the cladding was swapped and who decided to swap it.
She said: “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.”
Mr Cawthorne said the council should now put money into improving the children’s playground and ‘act like a decent and proper landlord’. He added: “We are desperate for the communal areas to be fit for purpose so the children of this and the next generation can enjoy living and playing safely here. That’s compensation.”