Three companies have been ordered to pay fines totalling £670,000 after admitting fire safety failings at a building used for student accommodation in Leeds.
Judge Mairs at Leeds Crown Court heard how Trinity Halls on Woodhouse Street had only one available fire escape which was compromised due to combustible materials, putting at serious risk the 27 students who had moved in, in September 2016.
Trinity Developments Ltd, the owners of the building, admitted four safety breaches. Niche Homes Ltd, contracted to manage and let the property, also admitted the same four breaches.
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In addition to this APP Construction Ltd, who were contracted to design and build the property, admitted one charge of failing to provide an adequate number of fire escape routes and exits.
The fines and costs for APP Construction Ltd were £459,000, Trinity Developments Ltd £166,000 and Niche Homes Ltd £66,000.
The court heard the students had moved into the building on the upper ground floor while other floors were still under construction. There were a string of other failures which contributed to the significant risk including lack of appropriate fire alarms and detection, exposed timber framing, the storage of flammable items on stairwells and no markings indicating fire escape routes.
The court heard that a lack of fire alarms and detection within the building meant that in the event of a fire, students would not have had early warning to evacuate the building and upon evacuation, some students would have had to travel 35 metres to get to the nearest fire escape, almost double the recommended limit of 18 metres.
Judge Mairs described the situation as having the ‘potential for catastrophe’.
The companies were all offered credit in court for their early guilty pleas. Acceptable safety measures are now in place at the building.
Judge Mairs said that all the companies had ‘high culpability’ and that ‘the risks were so obvious that a member of the public spotted them – so they should have been obvious to the companies involved’.
Following the sentencing Chris Kemp, senior fire protection manager for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “This case demonstrates the importance those responsible for building construction, development and occupation have in understanding their duties and acting responsibly to take account of the safety of the people they are responsible for.
“As Judge Mairs highlighted, the dangers and risks found at Trinity Halls were so obvious anyone without a technical fire safety background could identify them. The conditions that were found on site were such that some of our senior officers have not seen such blatant disregard for the law and the safety of residents in 28 years. West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service are committed to ensuring the communities of West Yorkshire are safe and feel safe in the buildings they use. We will continue to work with building owners to support them in achieving this, however when we are faced with concerns such as were found at Trinity Halls, we have no alternative but to consider legal action against those responsible for putting people at risk.”
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