Belfast Telegraph

NI Housing Executive meets Fire Service as safety review continues

By Sue Doherty

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) has met with the Fire & Rescue Service and local government authorities to discuss fire safety and building regulations in the wake of the tragic fire which has claimed 30 lives at Grenfell Tower in London.

The cause of the inferno, which quickly spread through the 24-storey block in the early hours of Wednesday, is not yet known, although arson has been ruled out.

Concerns have been raised that exterior cladding, applied during a recent refurbishment, may have caused the fire to spread more quickly.

Four of the NIHE's 32 high rise blocks have been clad or are in the process of being clad, the executive confirmed.

A spokesman said: "The high rise buildings, due to their age, required repairs to the concrete structure.

"At the same time we took the opportunity to increase the thermal performance of the tower block and to protect its structure from further deterioration and increase its lifespan.

"In order to achieve this, the Housing Executive opted for an external cladding solution. The cladding system not only improves the thermal efficiency of the building but also provides protective outer skin to protect it from the elements."

The two high rise buildings where the cladding has been completed are Eithne House and Cuchulainn House in the New Lodge area. Both buildings are covered with a rainscreen system made up of PvC panels and rails with a Rockwool insulated core.

The two high rise buildings currently being clad are Carnet House and Whincroft House in east Belfast.

The NIHE 's meeting with the Fire Service and government agencies, the NIHE spokesman said, was to "ensure that we continue to meet our statutory obligations to ensure the safety of all those living in the tower blocks.

“It is too early to determine the cause of the fire in London and we will await the findings. If there are lessons to be learned from the investigation into this tragedy then those will be taken on board.

“In the interim, we have agreed to meet again in the coming weeks."

Safety checks are ongoing at all of the NIHE's 32 high rise residential accommodation blocks where he added, the executive remains "fully compliant with all fire safety regulations".

“All residents living in high rise accommodation will have received a fire safety leaflet from the Housing Executive, providing advice and guidance on keeping safe at home," the spokesman said. “If any residents have any further concerns, they are asked to contact their local office on 03448 920 900.”

No sprinklers

The spokesman also confirmed that approximately 3,000 people live in NIHE managed high rise blocks, mainly in Belfast, none of which have sprinklers.

"Our high rises were built in the 1960s and 1970s without sprinklers," he stated. "It is not a requirement of building control or fire regulations."

In addition, all of the tower blocks have single protected or fire resistant staircases with fire doors. They are also fitted with fire alarm systems.

The Housing Executive has installed smoke detectors on every floor and they are checked in accordance with statutory obligations.

Housing Executive representatives will be meeting the manufacturers of the external cladding early next week, the spokeman concluded.

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