‘We have not been involved in your process to date, however, we would like to now provide you with an opportunity to explain your findings directly to the residents living with the uncertainty of what the future holds regarding our homes.’ – Cú Chulainn House residents...

 

Cú Chulainn House (New Lodge, North Belfast) residents are to hold a public hearing into tower block safety after being shut out of the government’s investigations and ‘fire safety report’ following the Grenfell Tragedy. The hearing will be led by residents, supported by Grenfell Survivors and technical experts advising the Grenfell Fire Forum.

 

Cú Chulainn House is one of seven in the New Lodge area – home to over 380 families and individuals - two of which, Cú Chulainn House and Eithne House, are now covered in uPVC Cladding. The uPVC was applied despite residents objections and health and safety concerns raised by experts with the then NIHE Chief Executive, and the former Minister for Social development (Now Department for Communities) Nelson Mc Causland.

 

Residents and human rights campaigners have taken the step to hold a public hearing following the publication, today, of a Housing Executive and Department for Communities report into fire safety. The process of drafting the report was chaired by University of Ulster, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Alasdair Adair in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tragedy.

 

Residents wrote * to Mr Adair and NIHE Chief Executive, Clark Bailie with the support of Professor Tom Woolley seeking a meeting. The letter was neither acknowledged nor responded to;

 

They said; ‘We residents have been living in constant fear in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire and have been given no assurances of our safety from the Housing Executive...

‘We approached Professor Tom Woolley for advice. We have provided Prof. Woolley with a wide range of evidence. We invited Mr Woolley to Cú Chulainn House to see the conditions and PVC Cladding first hand. We understand that Professor Woolley has met with you and conveyed our concerns...

‘We have not been involved in your process to date, however, would like to now provide you with an opportunity to explain your findings directly to the residents living with the uncertainty of what the future holds regarding our homes.’

 

Despite the concerns raised by residents and Professor Woolley** the report has largely given a clean bill of health to the uPVC which covers their homes – referring to long standing concerns raised by residents as areas needing ‘improvements’.

 

Prof. Woolley said

‘The NIHE report is very comprehensive but contains two major flaws...

‘The NIHE continue to take the view that the blocks are safe after carrying out external cladding work. In the lengthy appendix to the report, the report of the BRE fire safety tests claims that the cladding system is compliant with BS 8414/BR135. However, this test clearly shows that the uPVC cladding used on the tower blocks disintegrated within minutes of the test being started and is seen still to be flaming when it drops to the ground. The BRE test methodology, which is being questioned by a number of experts following the Grenfell fire, only goes up to 6 metres and is carried out indoors. This does not accurately reflect what would happen on the 10th floor of a tower block.

The mineral wool insulation used does survive the fire test, but questions remain about the fire stopping.

Secondly, the NIHE report mentions, but fails to address concerns about the smoke toxicity problem. When uPVC cladding catches light it emits huge volumes of dense choking Hydrogen Chloride gas within seconds. If a fire was to occur on a tower block and the uPVC cladding catches fire, the toxic smoke could blow back into flats and the lobbies and make it very difficult for people, especially the less able and those with respiratory problems, to escape...’

 

After years of trying to get answers; ‘Are we safe?’ and ‘What happens next?’, remain unanswered questions for the residents of the North Belfast tower blocks.

 

Cú Chulainn house residents are inviting all elected representatives to attend a public hearing where they will make Professor Woolley’s evidence and that obtained by action research and through freedom of information request available to the public. 

 

The residents are also inviting NIHE Chief Executive, Clark Bailie, Permanent Secretary for the Department for Communities, Leo O’Reilly and Professor Alasdair Adair to attend and present their findings.