Northern Ireland news

Fire safety concerns force Russell Court residents out of flats

 Russell Court on Belfast's Lisburn Road where a fire safety review found concerns about Block B. Picture by Mal McCann
Brendan Hughes

SIXTY residents are being moved from a block of flats in south Belfast after a fire safety review raised "serious concerns".

The residents of Block B of Russell Court, social housing apartments on Lisburn Road, will leave the building over the next four weeks.

Temporary accommodation will be provided to those in need while they are waiting to be permanently re-housed by the Housing Executive (NIHE).

Radius Housing, which manages the building, said the decision was taken following a fire safety survey in April, and residents were informed earlier today.

"Radius annually performs fire risk assessments in its multi-occupancy buildings," a spokesman said.

"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."

Fire marshals will be present on the site 24 hours a day while the flats are being vacated as part of "enhanced safety measures", Radius said.

A team of housing and NIHE staff have also been set up to provide advice on temporary accommodation, permanent accommodation, welfare payments and other issues.

"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," the spokesman added.

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 re-accommodation process."

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said the block "does not meet the required fire safety standards".

“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.

“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."

Block A at Russell Court was refurbished in 2011 and is unaffected by the announcement.

Radius Housing was formed in 2017 following the merger of Helm, formerly Belfast Improved Homes (BIH), and Fold Housing.

The Russell Court complex consists of residential and office accommodation. It was first constructed as a hotel in the early 1970s. Blocks A and B were built in two phases.

The site was acquired by BIH in 1985. Block A was converted to medical accommodation, completed in July 1986, and Block B was converted into 56 social housing apartments in December 1986. 

In 2010 when the lease expired, Block A was refurbished into 25 social housing apartments.

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