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Safety investigation into bedsitland

PUBLISHED: 19:45 19 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:41 03 March 2010

AN INVESTIGATION into the safety of Felixstowe's bedsitland has been launched before a decision on whether to lobby the government on changes to the fire regulations.

AN INVESTIGATION into the safety of Felixstowe's bedsitland has been launched before a decision on whether to lobby the government on changes to the fire regulations.

Felixstowe Town Councillors are considering joining the Evening Star's campaign to improve the safety of bedsits and say the law is confusing – they want to know how it works before deciding whether it needs to be reviewed.

The concern follows the tragic blaze in which teenagers Rob Giles and Will Stokes were killed when flames swept through the top-floor room of a house in which they were staying.

Although smoke alarms went off and alerted others living in the property in Holland Road, the pair never woke up and were engulfed in smoke as they slept.

Calls have been made for government ministers to review the situation which means some properties do need permission and others do not – possibly leaving many people living in less-than-safe accommodation.

Former mayor Dennis Carpenter said: "Many of us on the council don't understand the regulations concerning fire safety in houses of multiple occupation and the enforcement of those regulations.

"It might be that we need to look in to whether these regulations should be changed.

"Before we take that step though we need to understand the rules which exist at the moment and to see how they work in practice, what is necessary in these properties, and so on.

"I think this will be a very worthwhile exercise in the light of the recent tragedy which resulted in the death of the two young men."

Councillor Andy Smith felt it was a case that was "not to do with power, but history" and suspected several properties divided into flatlets, bedsits and flats required planning permission but did not have it.

He cited the recent discovery that the floors above the former gym in Constable Road had been bedsits for nearly 30 years without consent.

While council chiefs had been happy that they were safe and met fire regulations, they now did not and the landlord was being encouraged to take up grants for work to bring them up to standard.

Councillors are writing to Suffolk Coastal council for details of the rules.

The house in Holland Road, Felixstowe, where Rob, 18, and Will, 19, were staying on that fateful night, did not need planning permission as it was classed as student lodgings. The owner had put smoke alarms in the hallways and landings to give early warning of an emergency and ensure safety.

Some properties though may not even have such basics as detectors, let alone other precautions to give added safety to those people – many of them youngsters just starting out on life – living in the houses.

There is a loophole in the law which means that not all such properties need planning permission.

Those which do not have council consent do not have to have fire-resistant walls and doors, electronically-linked smoke detectors and alarms, or escapes.

But landlords who argue that their properties are student rooms or places of common living, with people sharing some facilities, appear not to need consent.


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