Warning for student flats provider over fire safety issues

Licensing chiefs have granted a restricted one-year licence to Structured House Group.

Warning for student flats provider over fire safety issues

A student housing provider has been handed a severe warning after hundreds of tenants were moved into unlicensed flats before fire safety tests could be carried out.

Developer Structured House Group (SHG) initially lost its bid for houses in multiple occupation (HMO) licences for 33 flats, accommodating 169 students, at Scotway House, in Glasgow’s west end, in October.

But licensing chiefs have now granted a restricted one-year licence after hearing about the steps taken to address the issues.

To avoid evicting students and abide by licensing rules, the operators of the Castlebank Street property closed the communal kitchens and paid for a catering company to provide meals.

They offered a reduced rent to the tenants and handed out vouchers so people could eat locally. All certification is also now up to date.

Archie MacIver, representing SHG, told councillors: “The company has brought in, three times a day, a catering company to provide hot and cold meals to everyone. That has come at a huge expense.”

He said the situation had “moved on hugely from where we were” and the accommodation is “very much state of the art”, with more than £40m invested by SHG.

“They had the worst of starts but they have learned from that,” Mr MacIver said. “Everything is in order.”

SHG was warned over its future management of the accommodation. A further 230 students live on the site in homes which do not require a licence.

In October, the licensing committee heard how firefighters had been called to the accommodation on 12 occasions since it had opened in September.

However, fire chiefs hadn’t been able to complete an audit of the building before students moved in as SHG hadn’t secured a certificate from the council to confirm building works were complete.

They had also failed to supply the required gas certificate. A fire service spokesman said the call-outs all related to cooking incidents, adding firefighters had offered advice to the property owners.

At the initial hearing, he said: “It is difficult to qualify our concerns because we didn’t have the opportunity to undertake a full structural audit.”

Bailie John Kane added: “This beggars belief. Who made a decision to to move people into a HMO property when you knew you didn’t have a HMO licence?”

Company director Brian Smith had replied: “That’s a group decision, based on legal information. This is the last position we ever wanted to be in.

“The majority of the students were already in the country. They were effectively our responsibility.”

Updating the committee, Mr MacIver said there had only been two calls to the fire service over the festive period, which he described as “non-events”.

Councillor Elspeth Kerr had previously criticised the developer for what she felt was a “money-grabbing” approach. “I think it would have been far safer if you had said we’re not ready yet,” she said.

However, at the second hearing, she added: “I’m glad to see the steps that have been taken.”

Story by local democracy reporter Drew Sandelands

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