Portarlington factory safety fears rejected by senior fire officer

A SENIOR fire officer has confirmed that the old run-down Avon factory in Portarlington poses no greater threat to public safety than any derelict building, despite claims made by Senator John Whelan that should the factory catch fire the entire town of Port would have to be evacuated.

A SENIOR fire officer has confirmed that the old run-down Avon factory in Portarlington poses no greater threat to public safety than any derelict building, despite claims made by Senator John Whelan that should the factory catch fire the entire town of Port would have to be evacuated.

Senator Whelan last week raised the issue in the Senate, where he called on NAMA and the EPA to take action at the abandoned red brick building on the town’s Canal Road before someone is hurt or killed. For months now the Portarlington Community Development Association (PCDA), led by chairperson Ms Margaret Guijt-Lawlor, have been campaigning to take the building in hand, following concerns of anti-social behaviour and public safety.

Ms Guijt-Lawlor has pointed out that several of the doors and windows have been broken into and she suspected the property was being used for drugs and other anti-social behaviour. Health and safety issues are the main priority, however, as there are dangerous chemicals being contained in canisters within the factory.

More alarming is the potential for a fire to sweep through the old building, as there is a considerable amount of wood being stored which was earmarked for use by a timber frame company before the bottom fell out of the property market.

In a statement last week, Senator Whelan described the disused site as “an open sore” on the character of the town, which poses a serious threat to public safety.

“The vast factory complex is a veritable tinder box and if there is a fire, it will pose a serious public hazard, which I believe would necessitate the evacuation of the town of Portarlington,” he said.

Acting chief fire officer, Declan Power has confirmed that the fire service have studied the building and he agrees that it needs to be kept securely locked to prevent accidents. However, Mr Power has said that the old factory presents no bigger a fire risk than any other building.

“The only risk is that it’s unsecured, there’s nothing out of the ordinary, it’s not a dangerous structure,” he said.

Laois/Offaly TD Brian Stanley has said that suggestions that Port would have to be evacuated in the event of a fire are “alarmist, inaccurate and misleading”,” and he said that the main issue to be addressed is to secure the damaged doors and windows to prevent unauthorised access and further vandalism.

“It is clear that the existing property owner has a responsibility in this matter and he should now take the necessary measures to resolve this issue,” Deputy Stanley said.

The PCDA have been trying to establish who has responsibility for the building, which is owned by Mr Mark McCormack of Clayborne Properties Ltd. Clayborne Properties are now defunct and the building has been taken over by NAMA. Ms Guijt-Lawlor now hopes to arrange a meeting with the county council, the fire chief and NAMA, to sort the problem out once and for all.

“We have to get to the bottom of who is responsible for it,” she said.