Victoria Square residents told to vacate Belfast apartments

image captionResidents of the apartments in Belfast on Chichester Street have been directed to vacate the building

Residents of apartments at the Victoria Square complex in Belfast have been told to vacate the building "immediately for safety reasons".

A letter from McGuinness Fleck, which residents received on Wednesday, said work was being done to resolve a "serious structural issue".

A spokesman said the repair would take 20 weeks to complete.

A lawyer for the Victoria Square Residential Management Company Ltd said the decision was not "taken lightly".

Emmet McKeown of Johns Elliot Solicitors which represents the Victoria Square Residential Management Company Ltd, said that since "a structural issue was initially identified in February, there has been a process of detailed structural assessments of the building".

He added the decision to evacuate the building "was done at direction of structural engineers as a safety precaution".

BBC News NI contacted a number of restaurants in the Victoria Square shopping complex, but they said they were unaware of the evacuation plans and had not been affected.

It is understood there is no indication of damage to the shopping centre.

In its letter, McGuinness Fleck estate agency said that further to its letter of 1 February, 2019, the management company had been working to "resolve a serious structural issue within the building that required the evacuation of a number of apartment occupiers along a damaged structural column".

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It said the situation has been monitored closely and the management company has been making efforts to have the damage repaired "as soon as possible".

It added that "due to the risk of further structural movement within the building, the structural engineers engaged by the management company have today directed that ALL apartments must vacate the building immediately for safety reasons".

The letter adds: "It will be necessary for you to seek alternative accommodation until the situation is resolved.

"We appreciate this will cause great inconvenience but the matter is beyond the control of the management company.

'Great inconvenience'

"Please keep us informed about your arrangements for alternative accommodation so we may keep you properly updated".

McGuinness Fleck also said in the letter that "it may be the case that any alternative costs you incur until this matter is resolved may be recoverable from the parties ultimately deemed responsible for the structural damage".

It said the management company is "not in a position to give any assurances about costs at this point in time".

"Please be assured the management company is working to resolve this matter as quickly as possible", the letter ends.

Emmet McKeown added: "Engineers have been inspecting the building in coordination with the landlord for Victoria Square Shopping Centre.

"A programme of repair work will now need to be done which is being arranged at the moment.

"A timescale of 20 weeks is what we are currently expecting."

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