Unsafe Bristol tower block evacuated

Bristol City Council has evacuated hundreds of people from one of its residential tower blocks over structural safety fears.

On the evening of Tuesday 14 November 2023, 400 residents, including 100 children, were asked to “immediately” leave their homes in Barton House, Barton Hill, after a recent building survey identified serious safety risks. The 98-flat tower block is believed to be one of the oldest tower blocks within the council’s housing estate, having completed construction in 1958.

A statement from the council read: “The block has recently been subject to a number of surveys to assess options for the future of the building due to its age and method of construction. The surveys undertaken to three flats out of the 98 in the block indicate that in the event of a fire, explosion, or large impact, there is a risk to the structure of the block. As a precautionary measure and to allow for further, more in depth surveys, residents in the block are being asked to leave Barton House immediately.”

Tenants living within the block have been advised to stay with friends and relatives “for a short period” while further survey and analysis work is carried out. Alternatively, a temporary rest centre has been set up with beds, food, and drink available:

The length of this temporary arrangement is dependent on a further survey of the building, which is being arranged to happen as soon as possible. All tenants will be kept regularly informed of progress and any updates on support arrangements,” the council added.

Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees also released a statement reassuring tenants at Barton House that their safety was of the highest importance: “A survey of three out of ninety-eight of the flats has indicated that the building may not have been built to the specification set out in its design.

This includes the apparent lack of structural ties between the floors and the load-bearing external walls. There is lower fire resistance of these structural elements and less concrete cover than set out in the original plans for the floors. Even if there was concrete cover as thick as set out in the original plans, this would still be less than would be used in a building built today.

We are working at pace to complete further surveys now, to go deep into the structure and understand when it would be safe for residents to move back into Barton House.”

In response to the council’s decision, Avon Fire and Rescue Service (AFRS) said: “The approach the Council are taking as responsible persons of the building is appropriate and proportional, we are in support of this to ensure that residents are kept safe.”

Lead for the council’s housing services, Councillor Kye Dudd told BBC Radio Bristol: “The issue is with the concrete sections and how they're tied to the walls, so actually if the building was built to design, we wouldn't have this problem.

"The issue is within the construction of the building and the job that was done at the time. We had five fires in high-rise blocks last year so in terms of the level of risk, that is unacceptable. We just can't take that risk. I had a briefing on Monday where the report from the structural engineer was presented to me and it looked really bad. I said we needed to prepare for a potential emergency evacuation, but we also had to seek further advice from the fire brigade. The following day we had another meeting with all the extra information, and we had some prep in terms of where we would potentially move people.

"We had to take the decision with the information we had in front of us, as the safety with residents is paramount and we can't take the risk on that."

The council has added that the evacuation was a “cautious approach” to ensure that “no unnecessary risk is taken with the wellbeing of those who live there”. “No evidence has been presented to suggest there is any immediate risk to health and life. The further planned survey is designed to provide all the information needed to fully assess the building structure,” the council added in its statement.

While the council is certain that the structural issues found at Barton House are unique, Bristol Live reports that the government had warned the council about Barton House and four other blocks in 2017. The council stated that there was “currently no evidence to suggest the issues identified” at Barton House were present in other tower blocks but confirmed that it is “regularly surveying its estate as it works to meet all regulatory requirements”.


(Photograph by Bristol City Council)