University can’t force builders to install sprinklers

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UNIVERSITY of Portsmouth officials say they can’t refuse to place students at the city’s new ‘blade building’ despite its owners’ decision not to install sprinklers.

But the university’s vice chancellor John Craven said he believes the building will be safe, and would welcome discussion with firefighters about their concerns.

Mr Craven spoke out after The News revealed Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service had failed to convince owner Watkin Jones to put sprinklers into its planned 330ft building at Victoria Park.

Firefighters said they feared the decision could put lives at risk.

But Mr Craven said: ‘The safety of our students is our highest priority. We’re not the experts on fire safety but we know the building meets all legal requirements.

‘We’re in a contract with Watkin Jones, and can’t refuse to place students in the building. We don’t believe that’s necessary, as the building meets all safety standards.

‘We don’t have the ultimate power over this decision, as the building is being built, and will be owned and operated by Watkin Jones. But we’d be happy to talk to the fire service about their concerns.’

The £30m building, nicknamed the blade because of its sleek design, will be used to house 600 students from the university. But it is at the centre of fire safety fears, because of a loophole in the law. Building laws say residential buildings of 30m or more must have sprinklers, but because the blade, as a student halls of residence, is listed as a ‘managed building’, it is exempt.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service’s area manager for community safety, Mick Crennell, said: ‘The building’s classification is in the letter of the law, but not its spirit.

‘Sprinklers reduce fires, stop them spreading and cut the risk of injury and death. They’re like having a 24-hour firefighter in every room.’

The fire brigade is also using the case to lobby the government to change the law.

Mr Crennell said: ‘When the law was made, it wasn’t with 33-storey halls of residence in mind. We’re pushing to have the regulations updated.’

Portsmouth City Council has confirmed it will meet next week with representatives of the fire service and the university.

Its chief executive David Williams, said: ‘While we have no statutory powers in this regard we will discuss the issue next week.’

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