(Featured image via Natalie_Oxford, licensed CC BY 4.0.)

Lancaster University has commenced a fire safety review of local student accommodation, at the request of the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

Gavin Williamson wrote to all universities after the Bolton Fire on 15th/16th November 2019. The fire saw The Cube, a block of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) in Bolton, Manchester, burn down. The Cube had combustible cladding, much like Grenfell Tower which burnt down in June 2017 causing 72 deaths. The Bolton Fire caused two injuries and no deaths.

Mr Williamson asked vice-chancellors to 'put in place a review to ensure that there is 100 per cent [fire safety and regulatory] compliance across all buildings used by your students.' He asked that the review included all student accommodation, even that owned by private providers, but added, 'At this stage we are not including households.'

Professor Steve Bradley, the interim vice-chancellor, confirmed that Lancaster University would commence a fire safety review to be completed by 31st January 2020. He said that the review would encompass three categories:

  • All Lancaster University teaching, research, and student accommodation buildings
  • All partner properties on campus, such as UPP student accommodation
  • Off-campus purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA)

For off-campus accommodation, Professor Bradley explained that the University would seek written confirmation from all PBSA providers registered with the accreditation scheme LU Homes that their property meets all regulatory requirements. For PBSA providers not registered with LU Homes, he said that they would also seek written confirmation from them in liaison with Lancaster City Council and Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service.

Professor Bradley added that Lancaster University would look at its existing internal processes and the processes used by LU Homes to make sure there is a clear mechanism to keep fire safety under continual review.

The review of LU Homes' processes will be vital, as on 22nd October 2019 the LU Homes-accredited Caton Court 'student village' was served with an Enforcement Notice by Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service for fire safety failures. The fire brigade demanded, under the 'duty to take general fire precautions', that the owners of Caton Court ensure that the employees and residents are safe after students raised concerns about the property that were widely reported in the press. Caton Court is no longer accredited by LU Homes, and after backlash from students LUSU were forced to cancel their marketing deal with the owners of the property.

Lancaster University has told Spineless that the results of the review are expected to be available in the public domain.