Statement regarding the removal of abandoned items from a fire escape in Cornmarket Street

Published: Wednesday, 26th July 2017

This is a fire safety issue.

Bags had been left outside a city centre shop for more than a year. We asked the owners of the bags on numerous occasions not to obstruct the fire escape. Work recently began on the refurbishment of the shop and the City Council was asked by the building company to assist in the removal of the bags because they were blocking fire exit routes, therefore posing a risk to those working inside.

Council officers issued Community Protection Notices on the unattended items and gave the owners of the bags two days to remove them.

Community Protection Notices required the owners to remove the items and allow the City Council to remove any abandoned obstructions. It is our legal duty to inform anyone in receipt of a notice of all possible sanctions, whether they are to be used or not, including a possible court imposed fine of up to £2,500.

After two days the owners removed all their belongings. What was left was a soiled duvet and pieces of cardboard, which we disposed of. No one was fined, and the fire escape is no longer blocked.

Each year we spend £1.4m on homeless services, including day services providing food, laundry and shower facilities, outreach and resettlement services, mental health support, and a broad range of accommodation including provision for young people, people with complex needs, those who are working and emergency provision in winter. We also fund a range of services that provide support, including the Big Issue and education, training and employment services, as well as prevention for people at risk of homelessness who are fleeing violence, tenancy sustainment support, and welfare reform assistance.

Last year we helped win £790,000 of government funding to support vulnerable single homeless adults in Oxfordshire, we have contributed £15m to purchasing properties to house homeless Oxford families, and we have retained our 7,800 council houses to provide affordable rents.

We take this national homelessness tragedy that is playing out on the streets of our city very seriously; we are very aware of the circumstances of the people on the streets of Oxford, the risks they face and their support needs, and work very hard with our partners so that no one should have to be homeless. 

On this occasion we had to balance the desire for people to leave their possessions in a fire escape with the risk this posed to the people working in the building.