Tenants ordered out of 'unsafe' Belfast tower block
A distraught actor is among 60 tower block residents being forced from their apartments due to serious concerns over fire safety.
The drastic move comes after a survey carried out in April revealed part of the Russell Court Building on the Lisburn Road in Belafst does not meet the required standard.
Angela's Ashes actor and playwright Patrick Scully (77) is the longest dwelling resident in Block B of Russell Court, which is owned by Radius Housing Association.
Last night he was on the verge of tears as he was officially declared homeless.
"I came home to a card lying on the floor saying there had been a serious incident and to call this number. I didn't know what had happened, but then I was given official court documents telling me I had 28 days to get out," he said.
"I am stunned because they were rewiring the electrics as recently as last night - this is terrible at my age and I don't know what to do."
The writer and director, who moved to Belfast in the 1970s, has been living at his current address for 32 years.
"All the legal work has been done and it would have taken some time to prepare; they have known about this for a while but have dropped it on us like a bolt from the blue," he said.
Mr Scully, who volunteers at the nearby Crescent Arts Centre, has been told there is no prospect of returning.
"Unfortunately, I will lose my office where many of my plays have been written," he said. "I just hope I am able to stay in Belfast. It's terribly upsetting and I'm still in shock."
The tower block has been under intense scrutiny after the Grenfell fire in west London last year in which 72 people died as flames swept up the high-rise due to dangerous cladding.
There is no suggestion that the issue in Belfast involves cladding. Instead, the fears are centred on the design of the building itself.
Philip Sage (25), who works as a telephone engineer for a technology company close to his home, fears he could lose his job.
"I have to now tell my manager that I will not be able to carry out the obligations of my employment contract which involves being available evenings and weekends for emergencies," he said.
The tenant, who rents the property from a private landlord, has been left with many unanswered questions. "My aunt owns the property so I have no idea what support is available to me," he said.
Declan Van Helden (20), who works part-time alongside his studies, has lived in the apartment block with his mother for the past two years.
"We are out of the house all day, so we don't have much time to sort this out - we are stressed out and haven't been given much notice," he said. "My mum is dealing with it pretty badly and no longer feels safe in the building.
Radius Housing said temporary accommodation will be made available for residents waiting to be permanently re-housed. It also said fire marshals will be on-site 24/7 and that compensation will be made available.
"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," Radius said. "Given these concerns, Radius has taken the decision to permanently vacate Block B on a managed basis over the next four weeks."
John McLean, CEO of Radius, said he understands the news will be distressing for residents.
"We will do all we can now and in the future to support this re-accommodation process," he added.
The NI Fire and Rescue Service said it had agreed an action plan with Radius in the event of a fire.
"Block B does not meet the required fire safety standards and the building is to be vacated," it said.