Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Portsmouth student tower sprinkler plan criticised

Image caption The Blade will provide accommodation for up to 600 students

A plan to build a 33-storey accommodation block in Portsmouth without a sprinkler system could put lives at risk, fire chiefs have said.

The Blade is being built to house 600 University of Portsmouth students, but the developers said it was not required to have sprinklers.

Hampshire's fire service said it was "extremely disappointed" by the plan.

Developers Watkin Jones insisted the design was "fully in compliance" with regulations.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service was told at a meeting with the developers on Tuesday that sprinklers would not be installed in the 110m (360ft) building designed for the site of the former Victoria Baths in Portsmouth city centre.

In a statement, the service said: "Our considered and professional opinion remains that the building would no doubt be safer if sprinklers were incorporated into the building design."

'Simultaneous evacuation'

It said the service had tackled 80 fires in highrise blocks in two years which led to the deaths of four people, including two firefighters at Shirley Towers in Southampton in April 2010.

The service described students as a "high risk group" as 11 of the fires had been in student accommodation.

Area manager for community safety, Mick Crennell, said: "Although the building's design complies with current building regulations for a halls of residence, such buildings were, historically, not built to a height of 110 metres which provides additional safety complications both in terms of mass evacuation and for fire fighting."

In a statement, Watkin Jones said the building was classed as "Residential (Other)", akin to a hotel so, under current regulations, sprinklers were not a requirement.

It said: "Fire safety within this building is based on simultaneous evacuation upon activation of the detection and alarm system, and extensive fire rated compartmentation throughout."

The company said the building would have measures including a fire-fighting shaft and mechanically ventilated lobby.

Vice-chancellor of University of Portsmouth John Craven said: "I certainly respect the fire service's experience in these things, but the current national regulations don't require it [a sprinkler system]."

"We certainly put safety of our students very high on our agenda."

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