Belfast Telegraph

Belfast tower block residents been kept in the dark too long

Editor's Viewpoint

Sixty residents living in a south Belfast tower block are being removed permanently from their homes after safety concerns were identified after a specialist fire-risk assessment. Many of these vulnerable or elderly people have been living in Block B of Russell Court, a prominent building on the Lisburn Road.

The situation is so urgent that they will be moved out in a matter of weeks. Temporary accommodation is being provided and the plan is to re-house them permanently.

Radius Housing, which manages the Russell Court complex, is working with fire experts to improve safety standards, and this seems sensible.

In the dreadful tragedy at Grenfell Tower in London last year, 72 residents died and over 70 were injured. The potential fire hazards associated with tower blocks have focused the minds of all housing associations, and government and emergency services.

The vulnerable residents of Block B in Russell Court, many of whom have lived there for over 20 years, are understandably fearful about their future, and they have criticised the 25-day time-scale for vacating the building.

The Secretary of State Karen Bradley has been kept updated, and according to a briefing by her officials which was mistakenly e-mailed to newsrooms at the weekend, she accepts that while the safety of the residents is "absolutely paramount", their move will cause "huge disruption and concern". Now the residents affected have told the Belfast Telegraph that the promised fire-safety marshals, who were supposed to be on a 24/7 alert, were nowhere to be seen over the weekend, which is denied by Radius Housing.

To add to the residents' worries, a number of youths reportedly tried to light a bonfire built against the tower block's exterior.

Mrs Bradley is right in underlining that the safety of the residents is paramount. However, given the age and vulnerability of many of these people, it is incumbent on all stakeholders involved to be as transparent as possible in their decision-making, and just as important, in communicating this to the residents.

While it is clear that people are doing the best they can to help the residents in a complex situation, it is important that their fears are allayed as soon as possible.

It is one thing to learn about this in the media, but it is another matter entirely if you are the person who needs help, especially if you are elderly and vulnerable.

Belfast Telegraph

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