NETTLES and weeds which surround a flats complex in South Tyneside put elderly residents at risk of being trapped in the event of a fire, it has been claimed.
When Robert Burn opens the back door of his one-bedroom ground-floor council flat in Claudius Court, on the Lawe Top, South Shields, he is confronted by a virtual forest stretching several feet.
A narrow access path along the windows at the flats complex is covered by a swathe of deep brambles, vegetation and prickly vines – blocking any exit for residents.
Mr Burn, 62, a former boilermaker plater who suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), says he once became trapped outside after his back door flew shut.
He attempted to clamber to safety but was “cut to shreds” as he struggled breathlessly through the dense weeds.
Mr Burn has demanded an access is cleared to ensure residents – one of whom is 92 – are not trapped in their homes if a blaze breaks out.
Today, a spokesman for South Tyneside Council said the authority accepted there was a problem – and promised action.
Mr Burn said: “When I got caught outside I had my boxer shorts on and I was cut to shreds trying to make my way down.
“It’s full of brambles and nettles which are all intertwined. It’s very, very dangerous.
“I can’t get a window cleaner to clean the back windows. When the council came to do some painting they said scaffolding was too dangerous to put up – they used a cherry picker instead.
“The whole lot should be ripped up. What are we going to do if there is a fire? We have no access out. If we came outside, we would fry.
“The old lady who lives above me only has one leg and is in her nineties. She would have no chance of getting out.”
Mr Burn, who has lived at the flats complex for nine years, said he had contacted the council to raise his concerns, but had had “very little help”.
He added: “My son and I spent some time to clear away some of the weeds from directly outside my back door, so I could have a couple of chairs out there at least.
“We put powder and Domestos down to clear it – it took some work. There were ants crawling all over the back wall.
“My other concern is for vermin. I’ve seen them in there. The whole thing is a total mess and we need it sorted as a matter of urgency. It’s gone on for years.”
A council spokesman said: “We appreciate the concerns raised by local residents, which is why we are currently carrying out improvements as part of a wider shrub reduction scheme in the Claudius Court area.
“This will include cutting back and removing vegetation from this particular site.”