Student flats provider warned over fire safety

Student flats provider warned over fire safety

STRUCTURED HOUSE Group (SHG) was given a ‘severe’ warning after it allowed hundreds of students to move into unlicensed flats ‘before fire safety tests could be carried out’.

Glasgow Live reported on the developer and an investigation by Glasgow City Council’s licensing chiefs, after ‘hundreds of students were moved into unlicensed flats […] before fire safety tests could be carried out’. A severe warning was handed to SHG, and it ‘initially’ lost a bid for houses in multiple occupation (HMO) licences for 33 of the flats – accommodating a total of 169 students – at Scotway House last October.

At a council meeting, councillors were told that Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) firefighters had been called to the site ‘on 12 occasions since it had opened’ in October, and the service had not ‘been able to complete an audit of the building before students moved in’ because SHG ‘hadn’t secured a certificate from the council to confirm building works were complete’, while it had also failed to supply a gas certificate.

A spokesman for SFRS said that the 12 callouts ‘all related to cooking incidents’, with firefighters having offered advice to SHG, and added at the first hearing last year that ‘it is difficult to qualify our concerns because we didn’t have the opportunity to undertake a full structural audit’. That first meeting saw local councillor John Kane state that ‘this beggars belief’, and ask ‘who made a decision to move people into an HMO property when you know you didn’t have an HMO licence?’

In response, SHG’s director Brian Smith said it had been a ‘group decision, based on legal information’, and that this was the ‘last position we ever wanted to be in’. He pointed out that the ‘majority of students were already in the country’ and therefore ‘were effectively our responsibility’. Despite this, the company has now been granted a restricted one year licence by the council after it heard about ‘the steps taken to address the issues’.

So as to avoid evicting any of the students, and to ‘abide by licensing rules’, the company closed communal kitchens in the building and paid for a catering company to provide meals, as well as offering reduced rent to tenants and dispensing vouchers so that they could ‘eat locally’. The company’s certification is now up to date, and city councillors were told by SHG representative Archie MacIver that the company had ‘brought in, three times a day, a catering company to provide hot and cold meals to everyone’, adding that this ‘has come at a huge expense’.

The situation had ‘moved on hugely’ from where it had been, with the ‘very much state of the art’ accommodation seen an investment of over £40m by SHG. Mr MacIver added that the company ‘had the worst of starts but they have learned from that’, and noted that ‘everything is in order’. Councillors did warn the company over its future management of the block, which has 230 further students living on site in homes that don’t require licensing.

Mr MacIver also noted that there had only been two calls to SFRS over the festive period, and described these as ‘non-events’, while councillor Elspeth Kerr – who had criticised the developer’s ‘money-grabbing approach’ at the first hearing, and said ‘I think it would have been far safer if you had said we’re not ready yet’ – told the second hearing that ‘I’m glad to see the steps that have been taken’.