Belfast Telegraph

Public get say on Northern Ireland tower blocks plan

Consultation begins on proposals to raze all flats

Residents of tower blocks in Northern Ireland are to be contacted to explain proposals for their potential demolition
Residents of tower blocks in Northern Ireland are to be contacted to explain proposals for their potential demolition

By David Young, PA

Residents of tower blocks in Northern Ireland are to be contacted to explain proposals for their potential demolition.

A public consultation exercise has been launched to gauge views on the Housing Executive plan for 32 high-rises in the region.

With the cost of refurbishing the tower blocks estimated at over £300m, last month the body said it intended to phase out use of the mainly social housing blocks and rehouse residents in new accommodation.

Tenants and leaseholders, political representatives and members of the wider community are being encouraged to contribute to the consultation.

Launching the consultation, a spokesman for the Housing Executive said: "Our prime concern is that everyone has a safe and comfortable place to live and over the last three years we have been developing a strategy for all our housing, including our tower blocks.

"All our tower blocks were constructed in the 1960s and are now over 50 years old and we believe that they require substantial and ongoing investment to provide the best housing. The estimated investment required over the next 30 years is in excess of £308m.

"We believe that this money would be better spent on replacing the tower blocks with new accommodation and we are proposing that, over a period of time, we will no longer use tower blocks for housing.

"We want to ensure that everyone is consulted and has the opportunity to have their say.

"During the consultation exercise we will fully explain our proposals and we also want to get a clear understanding of residents' needs and their thoughts on future housing aspirations for them and their neighbourhoods.

"Once plans have been firmed up, we will seek the necessary approvals from the relevant government departments."

The Housing Executive-owned blocks contain 1,931 flats, of which 281 are now privately owned and 29 are used for hostel accommodation.

They date from an era before sprinkler systems were installed as a standard fire precaution.

A consultation between the Housing Executive and the residents of the region's tower blocks had been set to take place earlier this year, but was delayed due to the Grenfell tragedy in London, and the subsequent investigation into the fire safety of high-rises here.

The independent report said water sprinklers should be fitted in tower blocks. It would cost up to £4m to put the safety system for extinguishing flames into each individual flat but a report warned against shortcuts

Sixteen blocks also need special doors installed to halt the spread of fire, the review recommended.

Work should also be carried out at the distinctive pyramid-shaped roofing of the New Lodge flats in north Belfast to improve smoke ventilation.

The report by the Independent Reference Group into fire safety at Housing Executive tower blocks also said cladding systems used in four blocks - Cuchulainn House and Eithne House in north Belfast and Carnet House and Whincroft House in east Belfast - did not include the same material which caught fire at Grenfell.

That blaze in June last year, which killed 72 people, spread through combustible insulation and cladding panels which had been wrapped around the west London accommodation to meet energy-saving targets.

A ninth-floor fire last November at Coolmoyne tower block in Dunmurry was started by a defective toaster.

The report said fire doors helped contain the blaze in the flat where it started and urged speedy progress on 16 blocks where doors are not in compliance and procurement is still being reviewed.

Belfast Telegraph


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