Residents to be moved out of apartment block amid fire safety concerns

Radius Housing's Russell Court complex on Belfast's Lisburn Road. Pic by Google
Radius Housing's Russell Court complex on Belfast's Lisburn Road. Pic by Google

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 Lisburn Road “on a managed basis over the next four weeks.”

Fire safety in high-rise apartment blocks has been a major focus for housing associations, the NI Housing Executive and the NI 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, which was built in the early 1970s, 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. We currently have 60 people living in the block.

“Given these concerns Radius has taken the decision to permanently vacate Block B on a managed basis over the next four weeks. Today we have notified all tenants that this is the case.

“Temporary accommodation will be available for all who require it while they are waiting to be permanently re-housed under the Housing Selection Scheme administered by the NIHE.

“Having taken expert advice we have put in place a number of enhanced safety measures whilst this re-accommodation process is under way. This includes fire marshals who are now present on-site 24 hours per day, seven days per week. We continue to work with NIFRS throughout this process.”

According to Radius, Block A at Russell Court was “extensively refurbished in 2011 and does not present the same concerns.”

“Working with the NIHE, we have put in place a dedicated team to provide advice for those affected by this move. This includes housing staff, NIHE staff, and who together will provide advice on temporary accommodation, permanent accommodation, welfare payments and other issues,” the statement continued.

“A dedicated phone line and email address for those affected is also now in place. Radius Housing will provide compensation and other additional support to those affected.”

John McLean, CEO of Radius Housing added: “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 re-accommodation process.”

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service said NIFRS has reviewed its response plan for Russell Court.

“NIFRS was informed by Radius Housing of their survey findings in relation to Block B of the Russell Court building in Belfast. Block B does not meet the required fire safety standards and the building is to be vacated. NIFRS has been working closely with Radius Housing and an action plan was agreed in the event of a fire in the building,” the spokesperson said.

“NIFRS also reviewed its response plan for Russell Court and has ensured that fire crews from the two closest Fire Stations, Cadogan and Central, are familiar with the layout and have a detailed knowledge of the premises.

“Russell Court has a simultaneous evacuation policy in the event of a fire and NIFRS supports that policy in relation to this particular building.

“Firefighters have carried out an exercise to test water supplies and rehearse firefighting procedures in the building. The exercise provided assurance that there was an effective water supply in the building and that operational response procedures worked well.

“Firefighters are on site on Tuesday 12 and Wednesday 13 June to provide additional fire safety advice and reassurance to residents. NIFRS will continue to work closely with Radius Housing over the next four weeks as they vacate residents from Block B,” she added.