Residents demand answers after Sheffield flats fail fire safety checks 13 years after they were built

Thirty-five families who were evacuated from their Sheffield city centre tower block should be back home in time for Christmas after a new fire alarm was fitted at the 13-year-old building which failed fire safety checks last week.

Friday, 18th December 2020, 7:00 am

The tenants and homeowners were evacuated from the Wicker Riverside building on Friday, December 11 by South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, after an inspection found the building didn’t have enough fire alarms or adequate smoke ventilation.

Thirty five of the 132 flats were evacuated - all from floors six to ten - after fire officers served the prohibition notice, leaving dozens of people with nowhere to live just two weeks before Christmas.

But ‘waking watch’ fire wardens costing around £2,000 per day have since had to be employed on every floor of the 2007-built building, and will need to stay until a new alarm system can be fitted.

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Resident Jenni Garrett outside The Wicker Riverside building on Northside in Sheffield which failed a recent fire safety check.

The residents have since been told the new alarm shoud be fitted on Friday, December 18, meaning the evacuated families will be able to move back in.

But Jenni Garrett, aged 24, who lives on the second floor of the building and wasn’t evacuated last Friday, is now demanding to know why the problems hadn't been picked up earlier.

“It is such a huge failure of regulation,” she said.

“I blame the Government. It is their job to regulate this stuff. It should never have been signed off as safe.”

Alexander Deane.

Jenni, who works for an auditing company in Sheffield, bought her flat in April 2019, with all its surveys coming back with nothing untoward and her mortgage lender signing off on the sale.

But now leaseholders like her are worried they will be held liable for the failures of those who designed the building, and could have to pay tens of thousands pounds to fix the problems.

“This isn’t our fault,” she said.

“But under the leaseholder contract we will be expected to cover these costs. It will be an awful lot of money to find before Christmas.

Sheffield MP and Shadow Brexit Minister, Paul Blomfield. Picture Tony Johnson.

“The first thing we want is for the Government to provide us emergency funding so we can get a new alarm system which will remove the need for the waking watch.”

Jenni contacted her MP Paul Blomfield on Friday night as soon as the prohibition notice was issued.

She said both he and Sheffield Council had been really helpful so far, as had the building’s management company, who she said were doing all they could to remedy the problem.

Mr Blomfield met with building safety minister Stephen Greenhalgh on Tuesday, with the Government announcing on Thursday a new £30 million fund for the Wicker Riverside leaseholders and others like them.

It is understood that the money will be used to pay for both the costs of the waking watch and the new fire alarm.

Paul Blomfield said: “I have been meeting with Sheffield leaseholders impacted by the cladding scandal and other building safety issues for some time, including those in Wicker Riverside.

“After Friday’s prohibition order and evacuation, I secured a meeting with the building safety minister Lord Greenhalgh and pressed him to ensure the problems are fixed at no cost to the people who live there.

“Leaseholders have been let down and we cannot allow them to pick up the costs for a crisis they didn’t create.”

Jenni Garrett is also a member of the Sheffield Cladding Action Group which campaigns for owners affected by cladding issues which came to light after the devastating Grenfell tower fire in June 2017.

The Wicker Riverside building was also on a list of buildings that could potentially have flammable cladding, but it is understood that the recent evacuations were not related to this issue.

Another resident who was evacuated on Friday, Sheffield Hallam University student Alexander Deane, said he would have never bought his flat had he known about the fire safety issues.

He said: “When we got the knock at the door on Friday I was in shock but at the moment I feel angry and confused.

“I just don’t understand how this hasn’t been picked up until now. I live on the eighth floor and we only had one fire escape so had no choice but to leave.”

Alexander, aged 30, was moved into a hotel by the council on Friday night but had to leave after a few days after it became clear that it wasn’t being provided for free.

He then had to move back to his parents house in Suffolk for several days until a new alarm can be fitted, something the evacuated residents have been told should happen on Friday (December 18).

However, even when the alarm is fitted at a cost up around £20,000, the building is still understood to have cladding issues, which could cost each resident tens of thousands of pounds to put right.

He said: “They are saying the cladding work could be up to £50,000 per leaseholder. There is no way we should be expected to pay that.

“We want the Government to step in to say we won’t have to cover these costs ourselves. It should be the people who designed and built the building who pay.”

Last Friday’s inspection came after South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue service announced last month that a team of safety inspectors would be reviewing all high-rise residential buildings across the county by the end of next year.

All buildings over 18 metres or with six or more storeys will be inspected as part of the second phase of the Government’s ‘Building Risk Review’, a programme which began after the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017.

The disaster - which took place in London in June 2017 - saw 72 residents die in the worst residential fire in the UK since World War Two.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.