Barton House: Bristol mayor says evacuated tower block was 'not built according to plans'

Around 400 people who live in Barton House were told to leave their homes.

A tower block evacuated in Bristol due to structural problems was not constructed according to plans when it was built in 1958, the city’s mayor has said.

Around 400 people who live in Barton House, in the Barton Hill area of the city, were told to pack a bag of clothes and leave on the evening of Tuesday 14 November.

Bristol City Council said surveys conducted on three of the 98 flats found a “risk to the structure of the block” in the event of a fire, explosion or large impact.

The authority told all tenants to leave immediately “as a precautionary measure” while more in-depth inspections, described as invasive, are carried out.

Documents from 2018 state that Barton House had undergone structural surveys “during and shortly after 1970” but there were no records of any since.

The information was published in response to a freedom of information request (FOI), which confirmed that Barton House was one of five blocks in the city built with large panel system construction.

It added: “We have no records of any structural surveys carried out of these blocks, although the 1970 records suggest that structural surveys were carried out at that time.”

Marvin Rees, mayor of Bristol, said recent surveys on Barton House were undertaken to assess “potential future options” for the block given its age and construction method.

“A survey of three out of 98 of the flats has indicated that the building may not have been built to the specification set out in its design,” he said.

People don't know when they will be able to return to their homes.

“A number of issues have emerged that suggest the building’s construction is sufficiently different to its blueprints that there is a material risk to the structure of the block in the event of a fire, explosion or large impact.

“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.”

Mr Rees, who is currently at a conference in Kigali, said there was no evidence of an immediate risk to life at the property.

He confirmed that 57 hotel rooms were provided to families, with four people staying at the council’s rest centre at City Hall.

Nine households refused to leave Barton House, while people in 29 flats did not answer their doors and may not have been home at the time.

Other residents stayed with friends and family.

Kye Dudd, cabinet member for housing services and energy, said the decision to evacuate the tower block followed information from a structural engineer and the fire service.

Mr Dudd said Avon Fire & Rescue Service had “changed their operational note to crews that would attend” a blaze there.

A spokeswoman for Avon Fire & Rescue Service said it supported the council’s decision to ask people to leave the tower block, describing it as “appropriate and proportional”.

She added: “I can confirm Avon Fire & Rescue Service will enter the building and respond if there is a fire or other emergency in the building.”

Local residents and community groups described “shock and panic” following the evacuation.

Khalil Abdi, of Bristol Horn Youth Concern, said concern was being expressed by people “living in other tower blocks in the city.“

It is shock and panic, people finished work, picked up their children then they got the news from the media,” Mr Abdi said.

“The whole area is shocked, not only this building. I saw people having panic attacks and falling on the floor. It was very difficult for the residents and the community.

“The work the council needs to do today is to provide information – how long are people going to be away from their homes? How long are they going to be in temporary accommodation? They need assurances.”

Nur Sharif, 42, who lives in Barton House with his wife and two children, said they had been placed in a single hotel room, which was uncomfortable and unclean.

He described how young babies had been among those evacuated last night with their mothers – some who had recently given birth by Caesarean section – were “struggling”.

When asked if he and his family would return to their home permanently if allowed, the taxi driver replied: “No. I spoke to residents and no one feels safe.

“Imagine someone tells you that you have to move out. How can we come back?”

One local resident, who gave her name as Lorraine, said she had been 10 years old when the building was erected in 1958. “I remember when it went up,” the 75-year-old said.

“It was supposed to be temporary. My sister was a baby when it started going up, she is 65 next week.”

Ray Gregory, who lives in Barton House, returned Wednesday 15 November to collect belongings and described the evacuation as “total chaos”.

“There was no forewarning, nothing. It is very stressful,” Mr Gregory said.

“We need to know what’s happening. I haven’t had any information sent to me, all I know is what’s on the news.

“It was total chaos yesterday, absolutely chaos – there were kids in pyjamas in the car park.

“I’m really disappointed. I want to know what’s happening. Have I got a home? Is it still going to be here? If it isn’t, where do I go?”

Shaban Ali, a resident of Barton House and part of Acorn Bristol, said there was a “lack of trust” in the council.

“They need to work really, really hard to build it up,” Mr Ali said.

“The good thing about living here is that we are a tight-knit community, we are all gearing up to help everyone.”

Well-wishers donated items including food and drink, as well as nappies, clothing and toiletries to Cafe Conscious – a community hub close to Barton House.

Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party and a councillor for Clifton Down, praised the generosity of local people as well as those working to help people affected by the evacuation.

She said it was “the right decision” to evacuate the building and acknowledged it was “hugely disruptive and stressful” for those living there.

Some residents learned they would have to leave through local news and social media, despite councillors being briefed on the situation hours before.

Ms Denyer said: “I appreciate it’s an urgent situation and it’s very difficult to do things in the right order but I do think that was a bit of a mistake of sequencing.”

“The council didn’t communicate with residents that early in the afternoon, it was kind of late afternoon, early evening before they knew what was going on and indeed the evacuation carried on until about 1am.”