Fire safety fears over £30m ‘blade’ student building

The Blade Tower
The Blade Tower
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SENIOR firefighters are holding talks with the developer of a new city landmark amid concerns over its safety.

Fire officials are worried that the new 330ft ‘blade’ building – accommodation for 600 University of Portsmouth students – will not have sprinklers.

They want the safety measures to be included in the £30m 33-storey building, which will be built on the site of the old Victoria Baths swimming centre. Adding a sprinkler system would cost up to an estimated £400,000.

In an official statement from the service, Deputy Chief Officer Dave Curry said: ‘We’re working with the building’s developer, Watkin-Jones and discussing the risk and safety issues of the proposed student accommodation at Victoria Park.

‘Clearly, as a potential future landmark building in Portsmouth, we would expect to see the very highest levels of safety to be included in the design.

‘We will ask the university and the developer to consider including sprinklers in the design to ensure the safety of the future occupants.

‘This and other fire safety provisions are especially relevant when we know that the future occupants will be students – a known high risk group.’

Under law, hotels and halls of residence are not required to have sprinklers. This is because they are managed buildings and must have additional safety measures such as strict evacuation procedures.

But a Portsmouth-based firefighter told The News: ‘Sprinkler systems can reduce some of the risks we face entering tall buildings.

‘They are there to help people inside the buildings, who could be seriously injured or killed by quickly spreading fire.

‘Sprinklers are a first defence against serious fires spreading. They should go back and add them to the plans.’

The Blade was given planning permission by Portsmouth City Council in April this year.

It had passed all building regulations.

University Vice Chancellor John Turner said: ‘The building will not be fitted with a sprinkler system.

‘Stringent evacuation procedures will be in place.

‘In the event of a fire an automatic alarm is triggered and on detection of a confirmed fire, there is immediate evacuation of the building to a place of safety.’

The university’s Students’ Union president Aakash Naik said: ‘New students are taught about fire risk, with a DVD issued when they arrive, so hopefully that will reduce risk.

‘Sprinklers would be sensible, but I’m sure the university won’t risk students’ safety.’