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