Star date: 26th June 2017


Recently, Salford City Council has been obsessed by the image of the city, desperately trying to move away from the 'Dirty Old Town', to something like Milton Keynes on the Irwell.

Has this obsession with image and wrapping tower blocks in unsafe materials led, in line with other cities, to the current cladding catastrophe? Here the Salford Star documents what's been going on behind the fancy facades...

Full details here...

Cladding being taken down on Thorn Court Cladding being taken down on Spruce Court Cladding being taken down on Whitebeam Court
Cladding being taken down on Whitebeam Court Cladding being taken down on Whitebeam Court City West Eccles blocks visualisation
City West Eccles tower blocks City West Eccles tower blocks LED Lights celebration Pendleton
click image to enlarge

Last year, Rob Ball released his short film, Foundations Documentary, about the regeneration in Salford which showed just how image obsessed Salford City Council actually is with transforming the look of the city; almost above everything else.

During a very short interview, Councillor Derek Antrobus, who has been leading for the Council on Planning forever and a day, managed to mention 'image' three times...

"The Quays started to change the image of Salford so people were no longer concerned about investing in the city" he slathered "I hope that the image of the city will be much better...We've got Media City which has been of immense value in changing the image of Salford from Dirty Old Town to something more about the future..."

That 'something more about the future' is now under the spotlight like never before. A future that looks good to tourists and visitors? A future that sees totally unaffordable apartment towers dominate housing?...

...A future that is looking rosy for Far East investors and developers, while the only residential home for disabled children gets mercilessly closed; and the Council itself has got the begging bowl out to ensure babies can actually be born in the city?

Even the iconic, world famous Dirty Old Town gasworks themselves are to be demolished (see here), along with everything else that has a whiff of the city's history, as developers are determined re-brand Salford as Manchester.

This obsession with image has come home to roost over the last week, when many of the city's tower blocks, done up to be chic architectural 'visual statements', have been declared an unsafe fire risk.

Salford City Council's Building Control applications, which may contain technical details about materials used in cladding these blocks, are all withheld from public view. Links to many planning meetings, where more details may be revealed, have all disappeared as a result of the Council's website makeover...

However the actual applications, decision notices and plans are available if the exact planning reference number is known. Over the last week, the Salford Star has been trawling through these applications, together with press releases from various companies involved in the tower block makeovers. They more than hint at an obsession with 'image' before any safety concerns...

This is particularly true for four of the seven aluminium-clad tower blocks in Eccles, owned by City West Housing Trust (CWHT), which the Government is currently testing for fire safety – Ewood House, Cremer House, Kemball House and Craunton House...

The 2011 Salford Council planning decision for these blocks state, for example, that 'the project' is seeking to "Create a modern, new image for Salford generally and Eccles town centre in particular by making a bold statement at the gateway to the city"

The planning decision adds that City West aims to "create a series of landmark buildings that act as a visible evidence of the investment that CWHT are making in their stock."

Meanwhile, the Design, Access and Sustainability statement on behalf of City West goes completely over the top... "The disposition of colours and materials on each block will be carefully controlled so passing motorists and pedestrians will see a changing and complementary palette as they move closer around and towards the blocks. Careful consideration has been given to longer distant views from the motorway and Regent Street..."

The blocks, as they were, appeared 'tired in appearance'... "If anything" the report states "they are a negative image at a key gateway to Salford and Eccles."

Instead, an ironic 'Lowry palette' was used to colour the blocks, which were a "key design opportunity", with the cladding providing that 'opportunity' to "tackle the drab municipal appearance"...

'Prussian Blue' aluminium rainscreen cladding would face outwards, "signposting the gateway", while the existing roof would be "resurfaced with liquid plastic finish to enhance its durability and appearance"...

Away from Eccles, another Salford 'gateway' features the nine Pendleton Together blocks. Here, the company moaned in its planning statement that Malus, Salix, Beech, Hornbeam, Whitebeam Court, Holm and Plane Court "currently appear grey, unrelenting and oppressive, with a lack of relief or expression in the facade treatment. The intention is to transform their appearance through the introduction of a robust over-cladding system..."

It adds: "The decision to overclad all medium rise blocks with an insulated rainscreen provides an opportunity for a wide variety of cladding finishes and colours which will be exploited to provide variation and identity to the buildings and groups of buildings. The design has been developed to provide colour and interest at key focal points..."

Thorn Court and Spruce Court, however, were going to 'reinvent high rise blocks'. The cladding panels, the report states, "known as 'Chameleon' creates a very dynamic appearance, changing colour as it catches the light. This means that each plane of the building can appear as a different colour shade, depending on the aspect and time of day.

"The interplay of light and shade and changing colour tones, within each tower and
from one tower to the next, will create a mesmerising effect" it adds "These colours have been carefully considered and selected in conjunction with Salford City Council's planning and design advisors and help to create a stronger sense of character and identity for what are large, grey and somewhat oppressive buildings....

"Due to the towers prominence along Broad Street (A6) the choice of cladding treatment is important" it insists "a Chameleon cladding that changes in colour tone across the facade and appears differently in varying light conditions, or when viewed from different positions was therefore selected. This will create a dynamic and exciting aesthetic and become a signpost for the rejuvenation of Pendleton..."

And again, under the title Iconic Local Landmarks the planning statement dribbles "As the buildings sit adjacent to a major highway they are seen by the public when on the move. The cladding panel selected for Thorn and Spruce is designed to modulate within a range of colours depending on the angle of view and the nature of the daylight, to create a dynamic and contemporary appearance..."

The Salford Star discovered this morning that, while official Chameleon Rockpanel cladding was considered for these blocks, it was never actually used. Instead, a product called Alucobond Spectra, which is an Aluminium Composite Material (ACM), with a similar appearance to Chameleon was used.

This is the stuff that is currently being removed from Spruce and Thorn Court, having failed Government fire safety tests. Was this product used because it was cheaper than the official, and generally regarded as more fireproof, Rockpanel Chameleon? This is a question that officers might like to answer.

Meanwhile, after the ACM panelling has now been removed from the sides of the blocks, huge holes are evident (see photos) by the windows of flats which, if a fire breaks out via the cladding, would push deadly smoke straight into tenants' rooms.

These vents are crucial to the working of the NIBE air pump system which residents have been complaining about since they were installed...They've been complaining, not only about the extortionate cost of the so-called 'affordable' heating system* but also about the gaping holes in their flats.

In the 2015 print issue of Salford Star one resident from Whitebeam Court complained: "On my living room wall there's a box that you could keep two pigeons in. It's an 18 inch vent and if you look down it you can see outside...You can also feel the draught coming through the drawers and cupboards yet the flat is supposed to be sealed. I've complained to Salford Council and signed every petition but there's been no response at all..."

These complaints were compounded with loads of other horrifying complaints about the refurbishment work on the blocks (see here and see here) but working class voices were generally ignored.

However, the image from the outside was super. Last December, Pendleton Together celebrated the switch-on of the LED lights on the tower block roofs, with Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett and assorted councillors, officers and tenants...

"...This regeneration work has made a real difference to where we live" said Dennett, with no irony intended.

The results of the tests on the City West blocks are expected shortly.

*For further details on the unaffordable NIBE system click here or see the 2015 print issue – click here, or see the Angela Rippon BBC Rip Off Britain programme (see here).

For related articles on the Salford cladding see previous Salford Star articles...

Salix Homes to Strip Cladding From Salford Tower Blocks - click here

Salford residents being kept in dark over tower block danger – click here

Salford Tower Block Cladding Similar To London Fire materials – click here

Moll wrote
at 10:29:58 AM on Thursday, June 29, 2017
Re Paul Longshaw (councillor) I think if you do your homework Dave you will find that Councillor Longshaw never worked for Pendleton Together. As for the cladding being for aesthetic reasons this is just pure fiction. I live in one of these flats and the cladding along with the NIBE work fine so much so that my heating was turned on in Decembet and turned off again in early February. I also know people who don't turn the heating on because they say their flats are to warm.
Terry Burnett wrote
at 3:44:48 AM on Thursday, June 29, 2017
I hope we all remember the above at the next local elections. Although we can get rid of the councillors responsible getting at the paid employees (planners et al) is not so easy unless named and shamed by those elected in order to save their skin...I won't hold me breath. Keep on with your investigations Star the only honest media we have these days. BBC & ITV local news it would seem to me are beholding to their landlords no campaigning or investigative journalism there!
Linny loo wrote
at 10:24:52 PM on Wednesday, June 28, 2017
The more articles I read in the Salford Star the more angry I get. The council the Mayor and theCouncillors at one time I never gave them a thought, but now well I wonder what they do and why do we need almost 60 of them. As they are so handy at making cuts maybe it would be an idea to have a look close to home the council chamber for example. They bring in new structures that causes council officers to lose their jobs, at very short notice. They vote to close the cities only residential home for special needs children, who will need care for the rest of their lives. They allow property companies to avoid planning fees, under write rent on offices blocks where they are not fully occupied. The Manchester and Salford authorities shell out cheap loans to very successful property/development companies when some of their directors are on the RICH LIST. You try and contact Salford MPs Mayor, and Councillors unless you have a very easy question you will possibly not get a reply, and if your question is a political hot potato well if you were to get a reply it will be the cuts we have had £186 million pounds been cut from our budget over the years. I am sick of hearing the same old same old. Now we have a Metro Mayor who is unlikely to be able to get involved with local issues. We're well and truly stuffed
Joanne Gillen wrote
at 9:49:15 AM on Tuesday, June 27, 2017
As always save money above all else,use the the cheaper ( no doubt ) alternative cladding than what was discussed,make it look pretty for all the foreign investors,I've never lived in a Tower block and never wanted to even before the recent horrendous tradgedy,but thousands of people do and like there homes,but as always shaft the working class with shoddy work, making there homes unsafe,cold and costly to live in,I was born and raised in Salford the old Duchy estate and there have been many changes in my 49 years,some good some rubbish, all you see now is apartment blocks being built way out of price range of ordinary working class people, where's all the affordable houses we hear about but never see 😡
Alf wrote
at 9:48:39 AM on Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Although not living in a tower rise, we've had cladding on our social housing... and it is colder now than it was before the cladding. Before, the outside was that 1970s eyesore pebbledash. Although it looks better from the outside since cladding, it has never been as cold inside! Even in summer when the sun is hot, it is like we're in a cave. It is often warmer outside! Salix told us it would be warmer and so save on energy bills, but not so. I think it was a vanity project to help sell the new builds nearby that are being flung up. I say this, because other houses near to us, also social rent, were normal brick (not pebble-dash) and five years on remain without the cladding.
Dave wrote
at 12:47:05 AM on Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Great article. Just about sums it all up. By the way Wasn't it Councillor Longshaw who ordered the NIBE heating systems put in when he worked for Pendleton Together. He is a plumbing heating systems engineer. He started on the tools and worked his way up. He must have been on a good number there. why did he leave. surely anyone can manage a part time clowns job sitting on salford council and a full time day job as well. All the other idiots do it. (the ones that are not on the dole and are actually employable). you can't afford to chuck away good jobs these days.
Milk Float wrote
at 12:46:56 AM on Tuesday, June 27, 2017
The Shambles that is Salford City clowncil , plenty of soundbites but no substance , except a waste of tax payers money on Gentrification projects knocking on the door of 1billion Queens , not bad if you can get the work , time to bring major projects etc etc in house with more regulation , and staff that no the job inside out the tax payer isn't a cow to be milk hang your heads in shame
Mary Ferrer wrote
at 12:46:23 AM on Tuesday, June 27, 2017
So,the cladding wasn't put on the flats for environmental issues (keeping the heat in) But so the flats could look nice. What a load of crap.And to add insult to injury they put the cheap crap on the buildings. How did it get passed the planners and the health and safety police. I hope there will be some form of public enquiry to find out how this has happened. And I hope WE don't have to find the monies to put it right.
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