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Tower Blocks UK visit Barton House, Bristol



Tower Blocks UK visited Barton House in Bristol on Saturday 2nd March 2024 to engage with residents and gain insight into the current situation.

 

This 14-storey block was evacuated by the local authority on 14th November 2023 after a structural report, commissioned by the council revealed that the building was at risk of progressive collapse. Residents were left in a state of shock and fear after the sudden instruction to leave their homes. Tenants were initially directed to stay with relatives before some were relocated to a Holiday Inn hotel where they faced further challenges including viral outbreaks, infestations, and lack of suitable foods due to inadequate facilities. 

 

Throughout the crisis, the council’s response has revealed poor planning and lack of consistency, with residents reporting differential treatment and selective engagement from council officers, leading to a disparate and chaotic approach rather than a unified resolution. 

 

Following a further structural report, Bristol council mandated a return date for Barton House residents in early March 2024, stating that intrusive investigations revealed that the block was safer than initially thought. However, independent expert Arnold Tarling, a chartered surveyor and advisor to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety has contested the latest report, stating that too much is being assumed and that further investigations are required. He also cited previous successful challenges of similar structural assessments at other estates. The safety of Barton House remains in question.



It’s evident that many residents have reservations about returning to Barton House with reports of some resorting to barricading themselves in hotel rooms to avoid being forced back to the tower block, while others have taken up longer term temporary accommodation further afield. 

 

One resident, despite expressing substantial apprehensions about the safety of Barton House and initiating a homelessness application, was denied relocation, and told she and her children must return to the block or find alternative accommodation at their own expense. The day we visited, another family with three young children were being forcibly evicted from the temporary hotel accommodation.

 

The council’s conduct appears to be discriminatory and coercive, aiming to compel residents back to Barton House, threatening residents with intentional homelessness if they do not comply. Despite these pressures, some residents have opted not to return and are currently engaged in further negotiations with the council. Many have sought the support and representation of ACORN tenants’ union.



We urge Bristol Council to learn from the actions of other councils in similar situations, such as Southwark with the Ledbury Estate and Haringey with Broadwater Farm, and to establish a coherent, consistent response to this crisis, acknowledging the physical and emotional strain on residents. Close collaboration with tenants, effective communication, and the provision of translated information are essential. Additionally, efforts to rebuild residents' trust and prioritise their well-being are of utmost importance.


Tower Blocks UK remains committed to closely monitoring the situation and supporting the residents as they navigate these challenges. 


Our stance is that Barton House is unsafe and unfit for habitation due to its inherent structural and fire safety flaws, and that any resident who wishes to be rehoused should be given priority in Band 1 for council rehousing of their choice, with their rights being safeguarded throughout the process.


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