Belfast tenant welcomes action to address safety fears over flats complex
A disabled resident who raised serious safety concerns about the condition of a Belfast city centre apartment block has welcomed a clean-up operation now under way.
Gregory Carlin (61) has lived in the eight-storey building at 97 Great Victoria Street since it was acquired by Choice Housing in 2011.
"Staff have been on-site assessing the situation and co-ordinating a tidy up," he said.
"Ad hoc repairs have been made to wheelchair ramps and we have been promised the work will be completed by the end of July and this mess will all go away."
Last week Mr Carlin had warned that residents could be left to "burn alive" in the event of a fire due to hazards posed by a building site, where work remains incomplete.
He said this had the potential to restrict access to a fire door.
The wheelchair user also slammed the quality of disability ramps, which he said had caused his chair to tip over on numerous occasions.
Mr Carlin, who has "gone without a water supply for periods of up to four days", raised a range of issues at a meeting with Choice officials last week.
"Due to health complications it is crucial that I have access to water - I have made that clear and have received assurances that the necessary work will be carried out to fix it," he explained.
"I was also assured that the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service will be made aware of what to expect should they be required to attend an emergency here."
Mr Carlin, who survived a massive stroke in 2016 which doctors said should have killed him, also complained about "constant leaks, flooding and broken water pumps" in the 58-unit complex.
The former DUP policy adviser, who was influential in shaping Lord Morrow's Human Trafficking Bill, said the improvements are satisfactory only so long as Choice Housing completes the larger waterproofing project soon.
"These are short-term fixes but if the work is carried out and water supply problems are rectified then that will be a good thing," he said. "I remain a sceptic, but let's see."
South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford, who arranged the meeting, also welcomed Choice's commitment to address a multitude of issues and "complete remedial works by the end of the third week in July".
Choice Housing said its chief executive has written to residents and that an additional fire risk assessment has been carried out.
It also said that a Health and Safety Executive NI (HSENI) inspector who visited the site last week was satisfied that the building is safe.
However, while the HSENI confirmed this, it also told this newspaper that its remit is "limited" while no construction work is actively being carried out.
Choice refused to comment on the meeting with residents, which it described as a "private matter", but in a letter issued to residents the association acknowledged that engagement "should have been better".
The correspondence also stated that the contractor tasked with carrying out the maintenance work had been instructed to "reprioritise and expedite" the project at the apartments as a matter of urgency.
"We share your frustration when we or our contractors fall short of expectations," Choice added.
It refused to comment on disputes between residential and commercial tenants after a ground floor trader described the misery he has endured working "under Niagara Falls" since 2013.
He said he has been left out of pocket on multiple occasions due to flooding from above.