Belfast Telegraph

Resident told Northern Ireland tower block 'safe' weeks before ordering her out

By Brett Campbell

A woman who was forced to leave her Belfast apartment due to “serious” fire safety concerns has slammed the housing association.

Cecilia Van Helden is one of 60 residents who were rendered homeless and given just 28 days to vacate a high-rise apartment block on the Lisburn Road.

The 49-year-old, who is currently living in temporary Housing Executive accommodation, is outraged after being ordered to leave her Russell Court home with her son Declan (20) — just two months after she was told the building was safe.

"They promised me the building was safe and two months later they told me to get out,” she said.

“I wanted to move previously but was talked out of it, I was told everything was fine.”

The hotel receptionist said she raised concerns on numerous occasions following fires which started in her fuse box — one of the blazes she says caused a black-out of the entire building.

It has now emerged that an electrical report carried out in 2014 which concluded that the installation was in “satisfactory” condition also found that it “did not comply” with current Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) regulations.

Landlords of multiple occupation properties are required by law to ensure that electrical installations are safe and undergo periodic inspection every five years.

But a question regarding the availability of installation records was left unanswered in the 2014 inspection report.

The electrician stated that fire seals and connections within the fabric of the building — including wiring in trunking and conduits, beneath flooring, in roof spaces and underground — were not inspected.

They also stated it was “not practical” to disconnect fittings and accessories “to complete a full battery of tests” before declaring the installation “satisfactory”.

Ms Van Helden believes her concerns were justified now that doubts over the building’s ability to meet modern fire safety standards have emerged. 

A spokesman for Radius Housing said that only “new or upgraded” installations are required to be compliant with IET regulations.

They were unable to confirm if any action has been taken since 2014 to ensure installations were compliant with regulations.

He said: “All testing was certified as satisfactory by a professional electrical contractor and met all required safety standards. We strongly refute any suggestion to the contrary.”

Meanwhile, another resident said he fears his life is now in danger as a result of being forced out of the apartment which helped him get back on track.

“I have had a very troubled past and have been in and out of prison since I was 17, but this house helped me turn my life around,” he said.

“Now it’s being turned upside down, I have aged about 10 years in a week.”

The vulnerable man, who has been viciously beaten in the past, has been living under permanent threat from loyalist paramilitaries.

“I feel safe here — there are cameras and there is restricted access, but now my life is at risk,” he said.

“I will be killed if they put me in an estate, I have no doubt about that.”

He has not been offered any accommodation at this point and has just over two weeks before he will be forced to vacate the building.

A Housing Executive spokesperson said it cannot comment on individual cases but did say that all assessments will be based on current circumstances only.

Belfast Telegraph

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