Resident Andrew Bleasedale had returned to his home at Newby Place in Mereside on 29 May 2012 when he felt the balcony move beneath his feet as he turned the key in his front door. He dived into his flat and looked back to see that the walkway had gone. A gas pipe was also ruptured.
Blackpool Coastal Housing Ltd was prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) on Friday (1st August 2014) after an investigation found that the company had known the walkways were dangerous for several years, but had failed to act to make them safe.
Preston Crown Court heard that Blackpool Coastal Housing had taken over responsibility for the flats from Blackpool Borough Council in January 2007. The council had previously arranged for a structural engineer to carry out a survey of the walkways after a worker noticed some of the fixings for the handrails had pulled away from the wall.
Further tests identified structural problems with the balconies at Newby Place and two neighbouring blocks of flats, and alerted the council to the need for major repairs.
However, Blackpool Coastal Housing failed to carry out any repairs – despite many of the senior staff who knew about the structural issues transferring to the new organisation, along with relevant files, when it was set up in 2007.
The court was told that the company eventually appointed a structural engineering consultant to design a temporary propping solution for the balconies in September 2008. However, his recommendations were also not implemented.
Instead, in March 2009, temporary scaffolding was erected under some of the balconies on the opposite side to Mr Bleasedale’s flat, although it is unlikely this would have been capable of supporting them if they fell.
Blackpool Coastal Housing eventually started work to replace these balconies in May 2012. During the project, the site manager reported his concerns that all the balconies at Newby Place may be unsafe, but again Blackpool Coastal Housing failed to take any action.
The court also heard that, during the investigation into the incident, the company misled HSE about its knowledge of the structural flaws that led to the collapse, until documents were recovered from as far back as February 2006.
Blackpool Coastal Housing Ltd, of Abingdon Street in Blackpool, was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £27,821.25 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
HSE inspector Michael Mullen said after the hearing: “The emergency services had to rescue several people from their properties as a result of the collapse, but it’s incredible no one was hurt. We could easily have been dealing with multiple deaths.
“It’s breath-taking that Blackpool Coastal Housing was prepared to take a prolonged gamble with the safety of its tenants at three blocks of flats. The company fell significantly below minimum legal standards for safety, and made a series of bad decisions in its response to the concerns about the balconies over several years.
“This was a potentially life-threatening incident which could and should have been prevented.”