Liverpool flats could be evacuated over fire safety concerns

Liverpool flats could be evacuated over fire safety concerns

THE PART completed Fox Street Village development in Everton could be evacuated over cladding fire safety concerns, after a council investigation.

Liverpool Echo reported on the prohibition order handed out to one of the five blocks at the development, with tenants told that due to ‘serious construction issues’ including the external cladding system, they will have to move out ‘by next month’ unless ‘urgent’ repairs are made. In addition, enforcement notices were sent out for the remainder of the 400 apartment scheme, due to council concerns it is all ‘poorly finished’ and fails to meet standards.

The developers of the project, Linmari and Fox Street Village Ltd, have two years to make changes, but if work is not completed – including constructing basement parking as agreed – the development could be demolished. The news outlet noted that action ‘on this scale is extremely rare nationally’, with Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (MFRS) insisting on a waking watch and other temporary measures being put in place to protect residents.

This five block development has four already completed, with one a converted old warehouse and the others new builds, with residents in block B sent copies of the prohibition notice. It stated that the building ‘has a number of serious construction issues that affect the fabric’ and ‘will contribute to the spread of fire should ignition occur’, while the external wall system is ‘incomplete’, and aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding is ‘poorly fitted’.

In turn, the ACM had ‘capping missing from various points’, while there were ‘signs of lifting in other areas’, and exposed holes in panels as well as gaps in timber joints. The ACM panels ‘appear to be fixed directly to poorly fitted, untreated and unfinished softwood battens’, with access to the interior wall system and insulated materials ‘easily achievable’. There was also ‘no evidence of cavity barriers’ to stop the spread of fire.

There were also concerns about fire doors, with one ‘cut back to the point where the fire preventing qualities have been compromised and the door still does not close’, while lightning protection work has not been completed, and kitchen extractor outlets from many flats ‘do not have terminal covers and provide no fire resistance to prevent kitchen fire spreading to the external walls, and neither will they impede the spread of fire from the exterior into the interior of individual apartments’.

When inspectors visited from the council and MFRS they raised concerns about cavities, with ‘evidence of regular smoking close to the building’ seeing a ‘substantial amount’ of discarded materials, which could ‘enter any of the large gaps in the external cladding’, meaning the ‘likelihood of ignition is greatly increased’. Poor compartmentation was also established, while there was ‘low confidence’ among occupants about how fire safety is being managed.

Discussions had found that there was ‘confusion’ over evacuation procedures, with on site security ‘intermittent’ and half hourly patrols not taking place. After two visits, inspectors had a ‘lack of confidence’ in fire safety procedures’, while there was ‘unsecured and unrestricted’ access to the unfinished block D’s construction site, the report concluding that a ‘significant Category 1 hazard exists’ and the ‘risk of serious harm’ was ‘sever enough to prohibit the use’ for occupation.

The order will come into effect on 13 May, while the enforcement notices for the rest of the site might mean it needs to be demolished within two years unless they ‘satisfy a long list of council conditions’, including submitting a full strategy for means of escape for residents. Both developers had until 9 May to appeal, with one block B tenant stating they were ‘obviously not happy, living in an unsafe building, rather worrying especially with it being a fire hazard’.

They reported a lack of communication from developers, with LinMari’s director Gary Howard the sole current director of Fox Street Village Ltd. The developers were asked about fire safety issues, but ‘did not respond’ on that note. On being asked about the notices and warnings, a Fox Street Village spokesman said: ‘There have been a number of external factors - all out of our control - which has meant that progress is not as far as we would have hoped.

‘However, we are working closely with Liverpool City Council to resolve the issues they have raised so we can deliver a scheme that is not only fit-for-purpose, but is a residential development that the city can be proud of.’

A spokesperson for Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority (MFRA) stated: ‘MFRA has been working with Liverpool City Council (LCC) as part of our ongoing work with High Rise Residential premises following the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017. This work has included inspections of the buildings in Fox Street Village.

‘Concerns have been identified with a specific block which requires improvements to fire safety standards. In particular, there are concerns over the standard of construction of the external wall system and fire safety management of the building. MFRA has given advice and is working with LCC and Fox Street Ltd to ensure that interim measures are in place to improve fire safety within the building – these are in line with Government Guidance.

‘These measures include a ‘walking watch’ and changes to the automatic fire alarm system to support a full evacuation of the building in case of fire, and a rewrite of the fire risk assessment.’