Residents to meet UK health and housing experts to determine long term solutions as Independent Report highlights MAJOR Flaws in CONTROVERSIAL £7MILLION Cladding Project FOR SEVEN TOWERS FLATS IN NORTH BELFAST

The alarming findings of an independent report commissioned by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive into proposals to spend £7 million on wrapping the exterior of the Seven Towers high rise flats in the New Lodge area of North Belfast in PVC cladding (rain screens) have highlighted the potential for the remedy works to actually create additional problems for residents, as opposed to resolving outstanding damp and heating problems. 

The report, which was initiated as a result of pressure placed on the Housing Executive by residents of the Seven Towers flats, was only made available to residents through a Freedom of Information request.

Angie McManus, a member of the Seven Towers Residents Group which works to improve housing conditions for residents and to ensure their human right to adequate housing is made real, said:

“We welcome the Housing Executive’s investment but we have always had major concerns that the proposed PVC hoarding will not improve the living conditions of the residents. These concerns have now been confirmed by the independent Building Research Establishment’s (BRE) report.

The report identifies twelve different aspects of the £7 million proposal that require further investigation.  Further testing is recommended in respect of the likelihood of increased condensation exposure that renders insulation ineffective; durability; sound proof quality; and fire safety of the plans.

Angie continued: “International research indicates that people living in the Seven Towers spend £250,000 a year more on heating than they should. We want to know how the proposed investment will address the widespread problems of damp, mould and huge heat loss which are impacting negatively on the health of residents. Indeed, recent research conducted by the residents is showing that living conditions are worse than ever. £7million pounds is a very expensive sticking plaster if this PVC hoarding is not capable of meeting the needs of the residents.”

Angie added, “It is clear that we need a long lasting solution to the problems being experienced and we are not convinced that this cladding option provides this.  As we are currently in an era of diminishing public resources it is even more important to get the correct solution, first time round.

“We have repeatedly asked the Housing Executive to consult with the residents of The Seven Towers on their plans. We believe that work on the cladding is due to begin at the end of the summer and we are calling for these plans to be put on hold until the Housing Executive takes on board our concerns and the major issues highlighted by the report. All we are asking is that the Housing Executive fully investigates whether such a spend of public money would resolve the primary problems and meet the residents’ needs, and that they explore other options before making this £7million spend.”

Angie, along with other residents, will tomorrow (Thursday 12 May) meet with leading UK health and housing experts, Professor David Ormandy from the University of Warwick and Professor Geoff Green from Sheffield Hallam University[i], to develop a proposal which will address the poor living conditions inside the Seven Towers.

Professor Geoff Green said: “We are committed to working with residents of the Seven Towers to develop a strategy for improving their homes. Homes are intended to meet residents’ needs and should be tolerant buildings which allow inhabitants to live, wash clothes and cook food. Improved heating and eradication of damp will result in better outcomes for residents in terms of their physical and mental health.”

Inez McCormack, chairperson of the Participation and Practice of Rights Project (PPR Project), an organisation that actively supports the Seven Towers residents, commented:

“These residents are taking the time and effort to ensure that public monies are spent in an effective manner to adequately address the many housing problems they face. We hope that the new Housing Minister lives up to his/her responsibility to ensure that both the Department and the NIHE show the same commitment and constructive approach which residents are. The choice is simple – either work with residents to develop proposals which will provide sustainable solutions, or choose to ignore the evidence which residents have brought time and again to the responsible bodies. The latter represents a wasted opportunity and a potential waste of valuable public money.”

Raquel Rolnik, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, and a Brazilian architect and urban planner, has also voiced her support to the group’s campaign to ensure that best possible use is made of this investment in the Seven Towers.

Ms Rolnik praised the group’s creativity in “designing cost-effective solutions to address their housing problems in times of severe resource constraints by identifying priorities, developing benchmarks and formulating policy” and called for the Minister for Social Development to have “due regard to housing duties enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”

Ms Rolnik’s comments were made in a published series of recommendations, to be publically launched in June 2011, produced by an international panel of human rights experts which considered evidence presented at a hearing last June on the housing issues for residents of the Seven Towers.