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Residents cannot return for weeks: Barton House Evacuation raises fears of another Tower Block Tragedy

By Hodan Sultan BA History of Art and History

“It’s been 6 years since Grenfell, 14 months since the fatal fire at Twinell House,’ and the question for most is if the council have learnt lessons from both tragedies.”

On the evening of November 14th, 400 residents including 100 children were evacuated from Barton House. The council has said this was due to a, “serious and immediate” structural issue with the building, and has encouraged residents to “stay with family and friends.” Those who have nowhere to go will be housed in a temporary shelter. 

In a statement, Bristol City Council confirmed that the initial evacuation had been due to a recent building survey indicating that, “in the event of a fire, explosion or large impact, there is risk to the structure of the block,” and that they do not expect households to return to their flats, “in the next two to three weeks.”

ACORN, a community union in Bristol, stated that it has been a great concern for them for some time now, as this follows a hard-fought campaign by residents. The community union had managed to secure nearly £100 million in fire safety measures on account of a string of fires in Bristol tower blocks which included a fatal fire at Twinnell House. ACORN notes that, “the council’s failure to listen to safety concerns of residents and their failure to properly communicate with them,” has been a key part of their campaign. 

Protests led by Barton House residents demanding an investigation have since erupted at City Hall, with Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party and Bristol councillor, stating, “I think there needs to be an investigation into why it has taken so long for this fault to be identified.” 

The demands presented by Barton House residents include, “reimbursement of November’s rent, a pause on rent payments, mental health support and support with childcare for all affected residents and a rehousing plan where residents who cannot stay in Barton House are rehoused locally, on the same rent or less.” 

The pressure is on for Bristol City Council, but “the largest responsibility lands with Mayor Marvin Rees,” says ACORN. Mayor Marvin Rees had issued a statement about the sudden evacuation telling residents that “rest assured our top priority is to make sure everyone is looked after and updated as the situation unfolds,” and that the council is, “being very empathetic.” But resident and ACORN Bristol Branch Secretary Shaban Ali says it has been a, “long hard-fought battle to ensure the safety of the building,” and that Barton House residents, “found out through WhatsApp groups and local journalists.” There has been anger and frustration over how the council has handled the evacuation and a growing concern regarding what happens next, with many residents saying they would not feel safe returning. The wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy has also been a fear for some residents, with ACORN Bristol Organiser Sam Kidel stating that, “it’s been six years since Grenfell, 14 months since the fatal fire at Twinell House,” and the question for most is whether the council have learnt lessons from both tragedies. ACORN and the Bristol Tower’s United have been vocal about the building’s serious issues since 2022. The residents of Barton House are mostly made up of families who are unable to express their concerns about safety directly to the council, so community unions such as ACORN and Bristol Towers United have been helping them do this.

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