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Is Newcastle’s student accommodation safe?

Written by Current Affairs, National, News

A fire broke out on Friday 15 in a student accommodation in Bolton, leaving 221 students homeless.

Investigations following the incident show that one of the main reasons why the fire spread so fast was because the type of panels used to isolate the fire was ineffective. 

The high pressure laminate (HPL) cladding panels helped stoke the fire due to its plastic flammable core, but this type of isolating panel is allowed for buildings under 18 meters. Because of this, Bolton’s The Cube student accommodation was not investigated. This issue has been declared as an “industrial crisis” by Salford’s mayor, Paul Dennett. 

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announced that by April 2019 223 private sector buildings using these panels in the UK were identified as unsafe, including student accommodation sites. Of these buildings, 121 have not started their repairs. 

As a city where one in every 15 homes is dedicated to students, making it the highest rate in the UK, Newcastle has also been plagued with this issue. 

The Chronicle has been reporting unsafe cladding in student accommodation for more than two years since the Grenfell incident; whilst most of the cases have been fixed, others still raise concerns. 

In 2017, after an intense investigation, six buildings were found to have similar cladding to the one in Grenfell Tower. These include St. James’ Point (now The Roost), Liberty Plaza (block A, B & C), The Shield and Verde. 

The Roost, a student accommodation situated right in front St James’ Park stadium, failed the fire safety test in 2017. The cladding panels found in the building were similar to those from The Cube. The manager of the property who spoke on the behalf of Brookfield Student Real State and Derwent Student reassured the residents the building is equipped with sprinklers, fire alarms, fire isolation doors, etc., and that repairs would take place immediately. 

Despite that, earlier this year the BBC published an article reporting that the company was again delaying the repairs. 

The Roost told The Courier that repairs were ongoing and are scheduled to be finished in approximately one year.

Cladding similar to the one used for the Grenfell Tower was also found in The Shield, Liberty Plaza and Verde after they failed the security tests in 2017. 

Downing Students, the managing company of Verde, stated that after the Grenfell fire, the replacement of the cladding that started in November 2017 has since been completed. They also reassured the public that no aluminium panels or HPL were found in their student property The View.

Speaking to the Courier, a Liberty Living spokesperson said:  “Over the past 24 months we have removed all ACM [aluminium composite material] cladding across our entire portfolio and continue to work in partnership with the British Safety Council to ensure that our buildings and the processes involved in running them are the safest and best they can be.”

However, students living at Liberty Plaza claim that no announcement or warning was given until they moved in in September.

On the other hand, The Shield defended the building did not break any regulations. The accommodation had to replace the cladding panels after the building resulted to be 20 meters high, two meters above the legal limit.

The University assured the public that none of the accommodation sites owned by Newcastle University have similar cladding to the one found in Grenfell or Bolton. A spokesperson said: “Following the fire in Bolton at the weekend, we have written to all of our students who currently live in the University’s owned, or partner, accommodation to reassure them that fire safety inspections of their accommodation are carried out regularly and we will continue to monitor the situation.”

In the wake of the Bolton fire, the Fire Protection Association has called for a total ban of combustible materials in buildings regardless of the heigh. 

If you are concerned about fire safety in your building, get in touch with your landlord or University. 

For more information, you can contact the Public Safety and Regulation department of Newcastle City Council at 01912787878.

Written by Alex Gervas & Jerry Chen

Last modified: 28th November 2019

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