Scottish student leaders call for safety review after Bolton fire

By Jamie McIvor
BBC Scotland education correspondent

Image source, Neil Hart
Image caption,
About 200 firefighters tackled the Bolton blaze

Student leaders in Scotland are calling for a government review to ensure all student accommodation is safe.

They have written to the Scottish government in the wake of a fire at a building in Bolton on Friday.

Hundreds of University of Bolton students were forced to flee as flames tore through The Cube.

The Scottish government said it would take "any necessary steps" to maintain safety after the fire service had completed its investigation.

The letter has been signed by the student presidents at many colleges and universities, as well as the president of NUS Scotland, Liam McCabe.

They warn that the sector has suffered from under-regulation and raise concerns about some privately-built student halls.

Fire alarm failures

The letter says the "horrific incident" in Bolton, which left 212 students homeless, "shined a light on the problems with student accommodation which has us concerned for student safety".

It adds: "As student leaders, we are concerned for the safety of the tens of thousands of students across Scotland who are currently living in student halls. We are particularly worried for students who are living in private, purpose-built student accommodation, rapid construction of which has expanded exponentially over the last few years."

Image source, GMFRS
Image caption,
The blaze at The Cube in Bolton took more than nine hours to bring under control

They called on the Scottish government to "immediately initiate a review of student accommodation to ensure that the homes of Scotland's students are safe.

"The student housing sector has always suffered from under-regulation and we believe the time is now to learn lessons from Bolton to ensure this does not happen again."

Scottish Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: "The safety of people is our primary concern.

"Although we already have stringent regulations in place, the Scottish Funding Council is urgently considering what further action may be required following the fire at privately owned student accommodation in Bolton.

"The cause of the fire, and any role external cladding played in how it spread, is being investigated by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service. The Scottish government will review the investigation's findings closely and take any necessary steps to maintain safety through our Building and Fire Safety Ministerial Working Group."

Halls of residence

Student accommodation takes many forms.

Some students live in halls of residence or flats which are owned or managed by the college or university.

In recent years, several commercially-run halls of residence have been built by private sector developers.

Others may rent a room or a flat in the private sector, usually from small-scale landlords. Rules governing so-called "houses of multiple occupation" have been tightened in recent years.

Recently, plans were announced for a student housing co-operative in Glasgow similar to one already running in Edinburgh.

Bolton fire investigation

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) is investigating what role the building's cladding played in the Bolton fire.

It inspected the building in 2017 following the fire at Grenfell Tower in which 72 people died.

It has since been confirmed that the high-pressure laminate (HPL) cladding used at The Cube is not the same as the now-banned aluminium composite material (ACM) at Grenfell.

But the Fire Brigades Union warned that HPL cladding was "more widespread" than the material found on Grenfell Tower.