Belfast Telegraph

Resident slams 'death trap' Belfast flats complex

Abandoned building work prompts fire safety fears

By Brett Campbell

An eight-storey apartment complex in Belfast city centre has been branded a “death trap” by a disabled resident who has flagged a catalogue of serious concerns. 

The internal courtyard of 97 Great Victoria Street, which is owned by Choice Housing, was transformed into a building site back in March as part of a waterproofing project — but the work still remains incomplete.

One occupant of the 58-unit complex is now warning that residents will be left to “burn alive” in the event of a fire because they will be unable to migrate across the building.

“A narrow space has been reserved to allow us to access the only fire exit, but if it was blocked by falling debris we would be left to burn alive inside,” the resident, a wheelchair user, claimed.

“Intense heat, flames and smoke from a ground floor blaze would make it impossible for us to reach the fire door, which determines who lives and who dies.”

A tap intended to supply water to fire appliances is situated in the narrow space, which could easily be rendered inaccessible.

The occupant, who has lived in the complex since Choice Housing acquired it in 2011, said construction work had been “never-ending” due to regular flooding, which often results in the elevator being submerged in water.

“It has got to the point where I need a life jacket just to use the lift, which I now refer to as the submarine,” the former chemical engineer added.

The stroke survivor described how he has been forced to rely on crutches due to poor disability access within the building and “unsafe” ramps which cause wheelchairs to tip over. 

“There’s just a lump of concrete at the door of the lift,” he said.

“I have fallen out of the chair on numerous occasions.

“Some residents wouldn’t have a chance in a an emergency.”

Yesterday a large puddle, due to flooding caused by heavy rain more than a week ago, was still visible in the car park.

The resident, who is in his 60s, is demanding action and answers.

“If a builder came in without a hard hat they would be sacked, so how can it be safe for the rest of us?” he asked.

A sign placed on the staircase leading to the fire exit states ‘Danger, Construction site. Keep out’.

Assembly Member Jim Wells has expressed “extreme concern” over the situation, which he warned could end in disaster.

“A friend has raised this with me and the first thing that sprung to mind was Grenfell Tower,” he said.

“The fire safety certainly appears to be inadequate and it needs to be referred to the Health and Safety Executive NI.

“We have witnessed the horrors of what can happen when things go wrong. It is vital that regulations are observed.”

A spokesperson for the Health and Safety Executive NI was unable to confirm if the organisation was aware of residents’ concerns.

South Belfast DUP MLA Christopher Stalford has also been contacted by numerous residents.

“I share their concerns, especially regarding health and safety and disability access,” he said.

“I have secured an urgent site meeting this week between Choice Housing and the residents.”

Last night Choice Housing said a full ‘construction stage’ health and safety plan was in place and blamed “inclement weather” and “issues with contractor performance” for delays.

“We reject the suggestion that our tenants have been imperilled,” it added.

“We take fire safety and prevention very seriously and demand that contractors uphold our high standards.”

It pointed out that fire surveys, which are conducted regularly, had not raised any issues.

Belfast Telegraph

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