The owners of a residential block of flats in Harlow were issued with a prohibition notice after officers from the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) found “significant fire safety concerns”.

Housing association Places for People, the owners of Joseph Rank House, received the notice on the evening of 27 June, with residents required to evacuate the building “immediately”.

“This means that the residents living in the 44 occupied flats must move out from 9am Friday 28 June,” ECFRS confirmed.

Explaining the decision, Area Manager, Prevention and Protection for ECFRS, Dan Partridge said: “We have issued a prohibition notice against Joseph Rank House, Harlow. This means the owners for the building must ask residents to evacuate the building immediately as we believe there is a threat to life related to fire safety.

“Essex County Fire and Rescue Service will only ever serve a prohibition notice when it is absolutely necessary. We never want people to lose their homes, but our responsibility is to keep people safe and protect them from the risk of fire.

“In this instance, we are clear that the property does not meet fire regulations. Specifically, we believe if there was a fire in the building there is potential for rapid smoke spread both internally and externally. This would mean residents would not be able to evacuate safely and this would put residents at a higher risk of serious injury or death.

“It would therefore have been highly irresponsible for our service not to immediately prohibit the use of the building.”

Fire safety defects at the converted office building were first identified in early 2023. At the time, the FPA reported that Places for People had sent letters to the building’s 130 residents expressing the housing association’s intention to demolish Joesph Rank House because it “no longer meets the standards we expect of our properties”. According to Your Harlow, residents would be moved into new homes over a period of two years (shortened from three), with two-thirds having since been moved into new homes.

Chief investment officer at Places for People, Tim Weightman said: “We have known for 18 months that there have been fire concerns with the building.

“We have been working with the fire rescue service and the council to rehouse everybody who lives in the building. We have achieved two-thirds so far, the original plan was for us to do that over two years.

“What has happened is that the fire rescue services have taken a different view with fire safety, and we completely respect their views.”

As reported by BBC News, the unexpected evacuation on Friday 28 June meant that affected residents were given less than 24 hours’ notice to leave their homes. One resident, Sam Elmasry, told reporters that there was some uncertainty about where they would now live: “Are they going to provide another place for us to stay in or are they going to keep us homeless?”

ECFRS added that those residents affected by the move would be supported by Places for People and Harlow Council, alongside other agencies including Essex County Council, Essex Police, and health partners.

Leader of Harlow Council, Councillor Dan Swords said: “Harlow Council is working closely with the building owner Places for People and other partners to support all the affected residents. From the time we were advised of the formal decision by Essex Fire Rescue, our teams have been working around the clock to ensure we are ready to assist.”