London fire: NI tower blocks to be inspected

Eithne House (white) and Maeve House tower blocks in the New Lodge area of North Belfast. Eithne House is currently undergoing refurbishment.
Eithne House (white) and Maeve House tower blocks in the New Lodge area of North Belfast. Eithne House is currently undergoing refurbishment.

The NI Housing Executive is to carry out safety checks at all 32 of its tower blocks, after a blaze at Grenfell Tower in London claimed the lives of at least six people.

More than 70 people were taken to hospital after flames engulfed the high-rise building in the west of the city in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Following the tragedy, residents in tower blocks in Northern Ireland have expressed concerns regarding the safety of the accommodation which they live in.

Some experts have claimed the cladding which covered the 24-storey building in London may have helped the deadly fire spread.

The kind of rain screen cladding used on the outside of the building has cavities inside of it which can work as chimney – carrying the fire up the building. It was reportedly installed last year, as part of refurbishment work.

The NI Housing Executive yesterday confirmed that it was undertaking health and safety inspections of each block in light of the events in London.

A spokesperson added: “We are currently refurbishing three tower blocks in Belfast and completed one last year.

“We want to reassure tenants that any cladding systems which have been installed or are being installed are required to comply with the relevant fire safety regulations.”

The Ulster Unionist Party said it had been in touch with the Housing Executive to ensure that tower blocks in the province are safe for residents.

Expressing his heartfelt sympathy to those who have been affected by the tragedy in London, UUP MLA Andy Allen said: “With a number of tower blocks in Belfast recently refurbished or currently undergoing refurbishment, I have contacted the Northern Ireland Housing Executive so people can be assured that any materials used for the cladding, insulation and general renovation of tower blocks do not present a fire hazard.”

UUP Councillor Sonia Copeland said she had been informed by the Housing Executive that extra security checks have been put in place in NI following the events in London.

The NI Fire and Rescue Service has moved to reassure people living in tower blocks.

A spokesperson added: “In light of this unprecedented incident, we wish to reassure people living in high-rise accommodation that fires of this scale are extremely rare, however we are providing fire safety advice for anyone concerned.

“We carry out regular visits to high-rise buildings and our firefighters are routinely involved in training exercises to respond to incidents in these types of buildings.”