Pensioners’ fears after Morecambe flats asbestos scare

Picture by Julian Brown 15/06/15  Harold England, one of the residents, pictured at his Lakeland House, Morecambe, home Elderly residents are sueing the owners of their block of flats after asbestos was disturbed.
Picture by Julian Brown 15/06/15 Harold England, one of the residents, pictured at his Lakeland House, Morecambe, home Elderly residents are sueing the owners of their block of flats after asbestos was disturbed.

A group of pensioners are taking legal action after a health and safety breach at a residential block of flats.

Residents at Lakeland House in Bare fear they may have been exposed to lethal fibres after asbestos panels were moved from electricity meter cupboards in the iconic seafront building.

But the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said there was no evidence of danger to the public and investigations are now closed.

Asbestos was outlawed from new-build properties in 1999 but remains in many older buildings, usually as a fireproofing or insulation material. It is harmless unless disturbed.

But if asbestos is disturbed, long thin fibres can be released into the air which if breathed in, can cause fatal lung diseases including mesothelioma, a type of cancer.

An HSE spokesman said there was no evidence asbestos fibres had spread to flats, corridors, stairwells and lifts.

But Harold England, 87, and four other residents told The Visitor they had sought legal advice.

“Asbestos can be dangerous and we have no idea how long it was there for,” said Mr England.

An HSE inspector was called out to the nine-storey Lakeland House, on the corner of Princes Crescent and Marine Road East, in February.

Her report states “asbestos containing material has been removed from meter cupboards without adequate, suitable or sufficient control measures in place”.

The HSE ordered the management company to get a licensed asbestos contractor to clean debris from the cupboards, which are located in corridors close to where people live.

They were also told to warn residents, and stop them accessing the cupboards and a switch room where panels were being stored.

An HSE spokesman said all these instructions have now been followed.

A spokesman for Lakeland House (Morecambe) Maintenance Company Ltd, managers of the flats, said: “A decision was made by the directors to remove the old asbestos compound panels and replace them with fire-resistant Gypsum board as the old panels were no longer providing the fire protection that they were first installed to do. The panels were being removed under domestic regulations and should have been moved under the much more stringent commercial ones. We received an order from the HSE that the remaining work should be dealt with immediately under the commercial regulations. This was carried out to the full satisfaction of the HSE and certificates of clearance were issued. They consider the matter is now closed.”

Residents have also been billed for the work to remove the panels and ‘environmental clean-up’ but the company spokesman said this was “a legitimate expense under the terms of the lease”.