District Judge Shamim Qureshi has ruled that student flats should be defined as ‘private dwellings’ as opposed to a hall of residence, in a decision that effects the fire safety strategy
The West Midlands Fire Service issued an enforcement notice to Victoria Hall Limited regarding the firm’s student accommodation in Selly Oak, Brimingham. The notice requested that smoke detectors were placed in all the private bedrooms and that additional seals were added to doors following a fire in January 2008.
Isle of Man-based Victoria Hall appealed against the notice which would have implications for all student flats in the UK. ‘This significant judgment directly affects our other student accommodation in Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool and elsewhere and thousands of other student flats throughout the UK,’ said John Ripley, national operations manager at Victoria Hall. ‘We tried to resolve the issue amicably with the fire service as we did in Leicester where a similar issue arose and, following representation from Carillion Specialist Services, the fire service withdrew. Unfortunately that was not the position with West Midlands Fire Service.’
The company carried out duct improvement work following the fire but felt that Building Regulation compliant doors in the bedrooms and the combination of heat and smoke detection in the kitchen and hallway already exceeded requirements.
Victoria Hall argued that the flats, which are occupied by four or five students, are domestic premises and therefore the fire service had no authority to impose additional fire safety measures. West Midlands Fire service countered that the flats were a halls of residence and subject to the Regulatory Reforem (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO).
Victoria Hall employed Carillion Specialist Services as technical advisors in the case. Associate director Darren Walker said: ‘In this case the fire service’s enforcement notice ignored the high level of fire compartmentation provided in the design of the buildings. As homes are exempt from the RRO, this judgment is extremely important. Opinions vary substantially within fire services and fire consultants and this judgment provides vital clarification for all involved in applying the RRO to student flats.’