Belfast high-rise apartments may have to be vacated 'by end of year', High Court hears

Credit: UTV 
Obel Tower Belfast skyline 
Northern Ireland's tallest residential building
The Obel Tower is the tallest storeyed building on the island of Ireland. Credit: UTV

More than 200 apartments in Northern Ireland’s tallest residential building may have to be vacated if alleged safety issues are not fixed by the end of the year, the High Court has heard. Construction firm O’Hare & McGovern is facing legal action over concerns about cladding and fire protection at the Obel Tower in Belfast.

The multi-storey building’s original developers - now in liquidation – its current owners and management company are jointly seeking an order for specific performance against the main contractor to carry out any necessary work at an estimated cost of £860,000.

O’Hare & McGovern is defending the case by disputing the claimants right to sue.

Points were also raised about the potential responsibility of any subcontractors involved in the development located at Donegall Quay.

Completed in 2011, the Obel Tower includes 233 apartments and office accommodation.

It was later repossessed and eventually sold due to the bank debts of the developer, Donegall Quay Ltd.

Under government checks introduced after the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London where 72 people died, external wall safety (EWS1) surveys were required at high-rise buildings.

But issues were said to have been identified at the Obel complex during EWS1 checks carried out last year.

Proceedings have been issued by original developer Donegall Quay Ltd (in liquidation), Obel Management Ltd and Obel Ground Ltd.

At a preliminary hearing on Wednesday, a lawyer for the three plaintiffs said 31 separate allegations have been made against the building firm.

James Turner of the O’Reilly Stewart law firm submitted: “The failings are, we say, of O’Hare & McGovern when constructing this apartment block, the biggest one in the country, concerning the cladding and fire protection that the residents of this building have come to expect.

“This matter is extremely urgent as these works need to be completed."

He claimed if the repairs are not carried out by the end of year the building’s insurance company will no longer provide cover, leading to a “cataclysmic event” of people being put on the street on January 1, 2023.

Safety issues have already led to residents having to leave another apartment complex at Victoria Square in Belfast, the court heard.

Mr Turner went on: “If the court is with us and grants the relief of specific performance of O’Hare & McGovern’s duties to fix this building then there’s a chance this court will not be listening to 233 owners with all the consequential losses of decanting, finding alternative accommodation, and having to tender for a contractor to come and fix."

David Dunlop QC, for the construction firm, rejected claims that it is relying on a technical defence to the action.

“The original owner of the premises became insolvent and there was a purported assignment of the contractual right existing between the original employer and O’Hare & McGovern,” he said.

“There is a live issue about whether there was an effective assignment of any right, particularly in the context of the transfers of the property in title, and the way in which the original contract operated.

“If we are right about that, it is not a technical point, there is no legal remedy enjoyed by the current plaintiff against the defendant and therefore the claim will fail.”

Insisting that efforts have been made to engage with the plaintiffs, Mr Dunlop also set out how his client depended on designs prepared by other specialists.

“The principal contractor is facing an allegation against it in respect of work which it was not solely responsible for undertaking,” he added.

Following submissions Mr Justice Huddleston listed the case for a further review in September, with a full hearing expected to be held in November.

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