Problems at evacuated Victoria Square apartments first found in February

The apartments are part of the Victoria Square complex but are managed separately from the shopping centre
The apartments are part of the Victoria Square complex but are managed separately from the shopping centre

Problems with a Belfast city centre apartment block which has now been evacuated were first noticed in February, it has emerged.

In all there are 91 apartments in the block, which on Wednesday received a letter informing residents they should leave immediately due to a “serious structural issue”.

It is not known exactly how many people are affected.

Lawyers acting for the managers of the complex revealed on Thursday that in February occupants of 17 of the apartments had been told to get out after a “structural issue” had “become visibly evident within two apartments”.

The statement, issued via law firm Johns Elliot, said those 17 apartments were all along the “vertical line of a damaged structural column”.

A structural survey was done and the management company began to raise money for the repair work – the cost of which is expected to be “significant”.

Repairs are set to last 20 weeks and will involve hunting for “the specific cause of the damage and the parties responsible”. It is thought road closures are not expected.

The statement then went on to add: “On April 10, the management company received a further notification from its structural engineers that all apartments within the residential development were to be vacated immediately as a further safety measure.

“It is regrettable that this situation will cause inconvenience... however, the absolute priority is to protect the structure of the building and ensure the safety of its residents.

“In order for evacuated residents to return to the building as soon as possible, it will necessary for the Management Company to apply its funds in the first instance towards the required repairs. The management company is therefore not in a position to make any assurances in relation to costs incurred by the evacuated residents for alternative accommodation.”

The block is believed to have been built around a dozen years ago, and is part of the same structure as the Victoria Square shopping centre.

However, the apartments and the shopping centre are separately managed, and the latter said that all its traders are open for business as usual.

The letter given to residents on Wednesday is headed with the name of estate agency McGuinness Fleck, which is acting on behalf of the management company.

The management company itself is called ‘Victoria Square (Chichester Street) Residential Management Ltd’.

And in turn it is majority owned by a charity – Ulster Garden Villages Limited, which describes its purpose as being poverty reduction by “providing housing and any associated amenities for persons in necessitous circumstances”.