QUESTIONS are inevitably being asked about the safety of cladding on residential buildings, following the devastating fire at a student accommodation block in Bolton.
Fire engulfed The Cube, situated on Bradshawgate, Bolton, on Friday evening. Efforts to tackle the blaze lasted well into the early hours of Saturday morning.
At its height, 200 firefighters and 40 engines were involved in tackling the fire, along with three aerial platforms and other specialist equipment.
An investigation is now under way to identify the causes of the fire, and examine the effect the cladding had on its spread.
As of today, three fire engines and two aerial appliances remain at the scene. Firefighters, meanwhile, are using thermal imaging cameras to check the building for any remaining hotspots and are reviewing the building to identify hazards. The fire service says it expects to maintain a presence for the next few days.
The alarm was raised at 8.30pm on Friday. Crews arrived to find the six-storey building burning fiercely. Residents were already evacuating the building, but two people had to be rescued and were treated on the scene by paramedics. Fortunately, no lives were lost in the incident.
By Saturday afternoon, all the residents of the building had been accounted for, according to the fire service.
“We’re pleased to say that contact has been made with the 220 residents that were registered to the building,” said a spokesperson.
“Once again I want to thank all our partners for their continued support and in particular the firefighters who responded swiftly and immediately evacuated the building and rescued two people.
“Understandably people in highrise buildings will be worried about the safety so we have advice on our website for Greater Manchester residents living in highrise buildings. Our advice is to find out the evacuation strategy for their building, which should be clearly displayed in the building – if it isn’t then you should contact your landlord or managing agent.”
Leader of Bolton Council, Councillor David Greenhalgh, said: “This was a terrible incident and I would like to pay tribute to Greater Manchester Fire Service and the other fire services that supported them.
“Everyone has rallied together. Council staff were on site immediately and throughout the night supporting the emergency services, the university and housing associations, and we will continue to help.
“I was here [on the] night with cabinet colleagues and we saw first-hand the fantastic work of the emergency services. I can’t compliment them enough.
“I’d like to pay special tribute to the university and to the neighbouring housing associations who worked together to rehouse people from the building and those nearby which were evacuated.
“I’d also like to pay tribute to the student ambassadors, who I met, and who went banging on doors to get everybody out.
“Once again a huge thank you to everybody who has made this operation move swiftly.”
Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson also praised the efforts of the emergency services.
As the fire raged, communities secretary Robert Jenrick said in a tweet: “My thoughts are with all those involved with the serious fire in Bolton this evening. My officials at [the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government] and I are following events and stand ready to assist if required.”
He later tweeted: “The govt will cover the costs for helping students at this difficult time. We’re creating an emergency hardship fund so students can carry on with their lives & studies as best as possible.”
John Healey, Labour’s shadow housing secretary, called the fire a “very concerning incident” and paid tribute to the emergency services.
“If other reports are right that the cladding has contributed to this fire, then the Government has serious questions to answer,” he added.
“As figures released this week show, two and a half years after the Grenfell Tower fire, thousands of tower block residents are still living in homes with deadly cladding. This should shame the Conservatives and they must now act to make all buildings safe.”
Professor George E Holmes DL, President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Bolton, said: “Supporting the welfare of our students is our number one priority and we have moved swiftly to assist in any way we can.
“University colleagues have worked through the night to make sure support is in place for students over the weekend.
“We have assisted in ensuring students have been given temporary alternative accommodation at the Orlando student halls and in some Bolton hotels.
“We have also arranged to provide necessities such as toiletries for all students affected and are opening the University over the weekend so students can be supported. We will also provide food for them.
“I would like to stress that The Cube is not owned by the University of Bolton. It is owned and managed by a private landlord and the students were not on our premises during this incident.”
Ownership of The Cube, a luxury apartment building marketed at students, where rents begin at £98 a week, is evidently somewhat complicated. Flats are owned by various leaseholders, with the freehold of the building owned by a company called Idealsite Ltd. Urban Student Life (USL), meanwhile, is the company that provides lettings and building management services on their behalf.
In a statement on its website, USL said it was “deeply sorry” and “concerned about the distress and disruption” that the fire has caused to the students.
“Valeo USL’s first priority has been for the safety and security of the students who were resident in the building and Valeo USL’s on the ground team led the evacuation of the students and assisted the fire and rescue services throughout,” the statement added. “Thankfully it appears that the prompt response of our staff and the amazing work of the emergency services has meant that the residents have remained safe.”
The company added: “Valeo USL is also actively assisting the emergency services with their investigations into the blaze and is committed to help with any investigations and looks forward to understanding the outcome of those investigations and any lessons that can be learnt…Valeo USL was not responsible for the construction of or subsequent amendments to the construction of the Cube buildings.”
Meanwhile, a donation page has been set up for the students affected by the fire. The official Just Giving page is being managed by Forever Manchester as part of the Greater Manchester Disaster Relief Fund.
The page can be found here: www.justgiving.com/campaign/BoltonStudentFlatsFireAppeal
Main image courtesy of Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service