Belfast Telegraph

Sixty people forced to leave Belfast tower block due to fire safety concerns

Sixty people are going to have to be re-housed from a block of flats in Belfast due to fire safety concerns.

Radius Housing have confirmed that the residents who live in Block B of the Russell Court buildings on the Lisburn Road will be provided with temporary accommodation while they wait to be re-homed by the Housing Executive.

They must leave their homes within the next four weeks.

Radius Housing said that they will also offer compensation and support to those affected.

However they have said that residents who live in Block A will not be affected as the block was extensively refurbished in 2011.

The Russell Court Building was constructed as a hotel in the early 1970’s. Blocks A and B were constructed over two phases.

The site was acquired by Belfast Improved Homes (BIH) in 1985. Following acquisition Block A was converted to medical accommodation completed in July 1986 and Block B was converted into 56 social housing apartments in December 1986.

In 2010 when the lease expired Block A was extensively refurbished to 25 social housing apartments. The Russell Court complex consists of residential and office accommodation.

High-rise accommodation is under intense scrutiny following last year's Grenfell fire in West London in which 72 people died after the blaze spread to cladding.

"Radius annually performs Fire Risk Assessments in its multi occupancy buildings. In April 2018 a detailed invasive survey was carried out on the residential elements of the Russell Court buildings given its complex and unusual history," a spokesperson for Radius Housing said.

"The initial findings of this survey have raised serious concerns regarding the long-term occupation of Block B and its capacity to meet modern fire safety requirements. We currently have 60 people living in the block.

"Given these concerns Radius has taken the decision to permanently vacate Block B on a managed basis over the next four weeks. Today we have notified all tenants that this is the case.

"Having taken expert advice we have put in place a number of enhanced safety measures whilst this re-accommodation process is underway. This includes Fire Marshals who are now present on-site 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. We continue to work with NIFRS throughout this process."

The spokesperson said that Radius Housing would do all they can to help those affected.

"Working with the NIHE, we have put in place a dedicated team to provide advice for those affected by this move. This includes housing staff, NIHE staff, and who together will provide advice on temporary accommodation, permanent accommodation, welfare payments and other issues," the spokesperson said.

"A dedicated phone-line and email address for those affected is also now in place."

A Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) Spokesperson confirmed that the fire service were working to ensure the area remained safe.

“NIFRS was informed by Radius Housing of their survey findings in relation to Block B of the Russell Court Building in Belfast. Block B does not meet the required fire safety standards and the building is to be vacated. NIFRS has been working closely with Radius Housing and an action plan was agreed in the event of a fire in the building," the spokesperson said.

“NIFRS also reviewed its response plan for Russell Court and has ensured that Fire Crews from the 2 closest Fire Stations, Cadogan and Central, are familiar with the layout and have a detailed knowledge of the premises. Russell Court has a simultaneous evacuation policy in the event of a fire and NIFRS supports that policy in relation to this particular building.

“Firefighters have carried out an exercise to test water supplies and rehearse Firefighting procedures in the building. The exercise provided assurance that there was an effective water supply in the building and that operational response procedures worked well.

“Firefighters are on site on Tuesday 12 and Wednesday 13 June to provide additional fire safety advice and reassurance to residents.  NIFRS will continue to work closely with Radius Housing over the next 4 weeks as they vacate residents from Block B.”

John McLean, CEO of Radius Housing said: “We understand that this news will be distressing for our residents some of whom have lived here for many years. We will do all we can now and in the future to support this re-accommodation process.

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