Bristol’s cabinet member for housing services has admitted the evacuation of the city’s oldest tower block could have been better handled – but said people’s safety was paramount.
Speaking almost a week after 400 residents of Barton House had to suddenly leave their homes due to “serious and immediate” structural issues with the building, Kye Dudd said it is likely to be two to three weeks before they know when or if they can return.
The Labour councillor for Southmead also apologised to the hundreds of people who have been displaced from their homes and left in fear and uncertainty, saying “it’s not a situation we ever want to put residents in”.
Since the shock evacuation of the Barton Hill tower block on Tuesday evening, Bristol City Council has come under fire, with residents saying they were “left in the dark” about information, and were scared and confused.
Acorn Bristol and others are now calling for an independent inquiry into the handling of the emergency.
Responding to some of the criticism, Dudd told Bristol24/7 that communication could have been better but that they were dealing with an emergency situation.
“I think we could have done better if we had more time to plan and structure this in a better way. But given the information I saw and the advice from the fire brigade, we had to act as quickly as possible, which meant maybe communication is less than you would expect it to be,” said the Labour cabinet member for housing services and energy.
“The alternative is that we took more time and I wasn’t prepared to do that, given the information I saw.”
Dudd revealed for the first time that he had received a report detailing the serious structural issues on Monday – the day before the evacuation – but needed to seek further advice from the fire brigade, who responded by 11.30am on Tuesday.
Once the decision to evacuate was taken early on Tuesday afternoon, Dudd said all the necessary officers, councillors and support teams had to be assembled – which meant the process of telling residents did not start until just before 5pm in the evening, by which time media reports were going out before people living in Barton House had been informed.
Structural surveys got underway on Monday to determine the extent of the safety issues and what comes next for the residents of Barton House. It is now a waiting game for the hundreds affected.
Dudd said the council is putting in work to “see what the decommissioning of the building might look like” if it comes down to the worst case scenario, but that they need to await the results of the survey.
“If the surveys come back and they suggest that this [serious structural issues] is right across the building, then quite clearly we’re not going to put residents back. We are looking at all the options there in terms of where we potentially can put residents if that scenario turns out to be the case, but it’s very challenging.”
He offered assurance that residents would not be left homeless, saying: “We’ve got a responsibility and duty to ensure that all the individuals are housed.”
He also said the council is now communicating with residents twice a day via texts and letters, as well as setting up a dedicated website: www.bristol.gov.uk/barton-house
There are currently ten households who remain in their homes in Barton House after refusing to leave. Dudd said there are teams – with support from community members – who are talking to these people, with no households moving back into the building since leaving.
Barton House residents currently staying in the Leonardo Hotel on Temple Way and the Clayton Hotel on Broad Street are currently being supported to move into the Holiday Inn on Bond Street.
Dudd told Bristol24/7 “there is no evidence to suggest” there are issues similar to the ones in Barton House in other council tower blocks, adding that surveys are being carried out though and blocks built in the same era will be prioritised.
Bristol City Council has denied that safety defects identified four years ago in Barton House were the reason for the evacuation, stating that only the report on Monday discovered that “in the event of a fire, explosion or large impact, there is a risk to the structure of the block”.
Dudd said that while the government had highlighted issues with large-panel system blocks, of which there are four others in Bristol, it was the fact that Barton House had not been built to the correct design specifications that prompted the sudden evacuation.
Dudd also denied claims that the Labour administration has failed to lead on the emergency evacuation – with mayor Marvin Rees in Rwanda on Tuesday – saying that he, his colleagues and the mayor have been at the scene and also visited residents staying in the Holiday Inn on Bond Street.
Asked what message he has for those affected, Dudd added: “I want to thank the residents of Barton House for their response to this – given the circumstances and speed, the response has been very good.
“Clearly we want this to be a temporary situation but we need to get the survey results back before we can act. We will be transparent about any information or issues that are found.
“I also want to thank the community for their response, that’s been really fantastic.”
Main photo: Ellie Pipe
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