Residents being moved out of Belfast high-rise flats over fire safety fears

Russell Court  residents are to be vacated from Block B (right). Block A and the offices below are unaffected
Russell Court residents are to be vacated from Block B (right). Block A and the offices below are unaffected

Sixty residents are to be moved out of a high-rise social housing apartment block in Belfast amid concerns that the building doesn’t meet fire safety requirements.

Radius Housing said residents will be moved out of Block B of the Russell Court building on the Lisburn Road “on a managed basis over the next four weeks”.

According to the social housing provider, Block A at the complex, which was built as a hotel in the early 1970s, was “extensively refurbished in 2011 and does not present the same concerns”.

Fire safety in high-rise residential blocks has been a particular focus for housing associations, the Housing Executive and the Fire and Rescue Service since the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London.

Seventy-two people lost their lives when a fire swept through the 24-storey tower block in June last year.

Explaining its decision to “permanently vacate” Block B at Russell Court, a statement issued by Radius Housing said: “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.

“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.”

A spokesman for Radius said the concerns relate to “the structural integrity of the building, extent of compartmentation and the internal services”, adding that they are “totally unrelated to cladding”.

All tenants were notified on Tuesday about the decision to vacate the building.

Radius has said temporary accommodation will be available for anyone requiring it while they are waiting to be permanently rehoused under the Housing Executive’s Housing Selection Scheme.

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 reaccommodation process.”

Radius has stressed that it has put in place a number of enhanced safety measures – including full-time fire marshals – whilst the “reaccommodation process” is carried out.

The Fire & Rescue Service said it is working with Radius and has reviewed its response plan for Russell Court.

It’s understood Radius will carry out a feasibility study at a later date to determine the future use of Block B.