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Families' lives left at risk in West Bromwich flats for eight months

By Richard Guttridge | West Bromwich | News | Published:

A fire-risk block of flats in West Bromwich should have been cleared of tenants eight months earlier, it has emerged.

Metro Court, West Bromwich

Council bosses were told flats in West Bromwich town centre were not meeting fire safety regulations eight months before families were moved out.

Inspections revealed Metro Court, on High Street, was unsafe in November last year – but its 80 tenants, including families with young children, were only told to leave last week.

Sandwell Council said it informed the fire service immediately and had urged the owners of the former office block to take action when the safety issues were first discovered.

But when it was found the problems had not been rectified and more people were being moved into the block, the council and fire service took action.

Opposition councillor Philip Garrett questioned why the residents, who are mostly Romanian, were allowed to continue living in flats known to be unsafe.

Tenants were moved out of Metro Court just weeks after the Grenfell Tower fire which killed at least 80 people.

The council's chief executive Jan Britton denied residents were moved as a result of the London disaster, saying there was 'no direct link'.

UKIP's Councillor Garrett said: "No matter who owns the building, if someone finds a problem that is genuinely serious, they need to do something about it, especially if there are kids in there.

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"If they found a problem as early as November last year, why has it taken until now, eight months later?"

A host of failings were discovered at the block, surrounding fire doors, fire and smoke alarms and insulation to stop flames spreading.

Fire chiefs feared there could be a risk of death if there was to be a blaze.

Metro Court, a prominent three-storey block in the heart of the West Bromwich town centre, is leased by First Job and owned by Metro Court WB. The leaseholder could now face prosecution.

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A Sandwell Council spokesman said: “Following inspections by council officers in November 2016, it was confirmed people were living in unsafe conditions in Metro Court.

“The council’s building control inspectors and the fire service sought to work with Metro Court’s leaseholder, First Job Ltd, to resolve the problems identified with the building. The leaseholder assured Sandwell Council and West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) that all efforts were being made to make the building safe and that residents would be moved.

“However, by the end of June it was apparent little progress had been made with fire safety improvements.

“The council’s primary responsibility in this matter is for safeguarding children. As a result of this, and the lack of progress with the leaseholder, Sandwell Council and WMFS started enforcement action and moved to make sure the building was not occupied."

Some residents have been put up in the Premier Inn hotel next door until they can make other arrangements.

A West Midlands Fire spokesman said: "West Midlands Fire Service do not want to comment as the investigation is ongoing. However, we are committed to ensuring everybody in buildings are safe and will continue to work with our partners."

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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