“Fryer Gate” – University of Derby’s Missing Fire Escape

Exclusive story from the Derbyshire Independent: The University of Derby ignored warnings that it needed a fire escape in the six-storey ‘Copper Building’ at One Friar Gate Square.

“It should be called ‘Fryer Gate’. The building is a deathtrap”, says student.

Known locally as the ‘Copper Building’, the development was hailed by city councillors as a significant vote of confidence in Derby and attracted an undisclosed amount of financial assistance from the council’s regeneration fund. The building was completed in 2013 but stood empty for two years as developer Lowbridge (Derby) Ltd struggled to generate interest for the office space.

In 2015, Derby City Council rushed through proposals for the University of Derby to move in to One Friar Gate Square, Agard Street, Derby. As part of a ‘change of use’ application, the developer submitted detailed plans to the city council that included six architect’s drawings that illustrated a fire escape stairway at the rear of the building. The city council and the fire service subsequently approved the change of use and, in September 2015, the University moved its Law School to One Friar Gate Square, but there was just one problem… the fire escape hadn’t been built.

Complaints raised by a student with the University, in October 2015, were met with assurances from senior staff members that the current number of students using the building (occupancy rates) was low enough for a fire escape not to be needed. Assurances were also given that a fire escape would be in place by January 2016, in readiness for a move towards full occupancy. Despite those assurances, it wasn’t until December 2015 that the University issued an invitation for contractors to submit their proposals to build the fire escape, with a requirement for construction to be completed by April 2016. However, in January 2016, the University increased the numbers of students using Friar Gate Square without a fire escape in place.

The Derbyshire Independent has confirmed that bids were submitted for the construction of the fire escape but that they were rejected. Instead, the University decided to move the building towards full occupancy, with a single central staircase as the only means of escape from the six-storey building, despite knowing that the requirement for a secondary fire escape was mandatory for the numbers of students using the building.

The Derbyshire Independent has seen documentary evidence that persistent complaints have been made by students to the University over the past 30 months, with one student referring to the building as a ‘deathtrap’. As of June 2017, the fire escape was still not in place, despite there being evidence of up to 200 students being on each of floors 2 & 3 during 2016-17, an occupancy rate that is more than double that permitted by the building’s fire safety certificate.

The questions are:

  • Why did the University ignore the requirement for the fire escape that it was aware was included in a planning application for the building’s change of use?
  • Did Derby City Council approve a change of use based on a planning application that included architect’s drawings showing a fire escape?
  • Did Derby City Council and Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service know that the secondary fire escape had not been built?
  • Did either Derby City Council or Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service inspect One Friar Gate Square during 2016-17 to check the occupancy rates?

In researching this story, the Derbyshire Independent has gathered extensive documentation from public sources, as well as responses to Freedom of Information requests and other written correspondence from the involved organisations.

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