Sprinklers will be fitted in all 62 Bristol City Council tower blocks and dangerous cladding removed as part of £97million of fire safety measures, it has been revealed. The massive investment in the authority’s budget to make high-rise homes safe over the next 10 years is almost five times the amount previously allocated and follows two recent blazes, including the Twinnell House tragedy, and new requirements in the wake of the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster.
But it means some planned work has been postponed or scrapped to help pay for it, with the laundry refurbishment programme extended by six years and upgrades to garages stopped altogether. A total of £32.7million will be spent installing sprinklers in every block by 2028, plus £23.7million to cover the ongoing costs of servicing and maintaining them over the next three decades.
When the council set its annual budget in February 2019, it included a five-year plan costing £7million to fit sprinklers in individual flats. This should have meant 25 of the blocks had them by 2024.
Read more:Only one Bristol tower block installed with sprinklers since 2019 pledge
But last November it was revealed that sprinklers had been introduced in only one of the buildings – 11-storey Butler House in St George – following delays caused by covid and resistance from residents to the scheme at what should have been the pilot project, Castlemead House in Brislington. The latest five-year plan, agreed by cabinet on Tuesday, January 24, should see £2.6million spent installing the safety devices in 2023/24, followed by £7.6million the next year, £8.2million in 2025/26, £6million the year after that and £8.2million by year five.
Another £46million will pay for the removal of expanded polystyrene cladding (EPS) by 2033, with £12million for round-the-clock “waking watch” fire wardens over the next two years at the 36 towers still affected – two have now had it removed – and £8.7million on evacuation fire alarms in individual flats as a longer interim measure if the work is not scheduled within 12 months. Community union Acorn – which has campaigned for the safety work to be done after Abdul Jabar Oryakhel, 30, died trying to escape a fire in a top-floor flat at Twinnell House, Easton, in September, followed by a second blaze weeks later at Eccleston House in Barton Hill where flammable EPS cladding contributed to the flames spreading, leaving six people injured – has hailed the council’s commitment as a victory.
The organisation had demanded sprinklers for all blocks, fire safety patrols until they are fitted and regular inspections with outcomes made public – and says all have been met. Acorn member and Barton House resident, Shaban Ali said: “It shouldn’t have taken this long or needed to turn into a battle for the council as well as the mayor to see common sense and stick to promises made in 2019 post-Grenfell but we’re ecstatic our collective voice, along with the backing and support of Acorn, has been heard and finally action is being taken to make buildings safe.
“Families and their loved ones can now sleep easy.” Acorn head organiser Nick Ballard said: “The very least we want from a home is a safe place to go to sleep.
“Sadly for the residents of these Bristol tower blocks, this wasn’t the case. That’s why they got together and organised with Acorn and fought for these fire safety measures.
“We’re delighted that Bristol City Council has now chosen to invest in the safety of their residents. It’s a national disgrace that tower blocks across the country are still covered in dangerous cladding and don’t have adequate fire safety measures in place, and we will fight until we see a country where nobody is at risk of losing their home or losing their lives through avoidable tragedy.”
Labour cabinet member for housing Cllr Tom Renhard told Tuesday’s council meeting: “We are making a significant investment in fire safety totalling £97million. It will see the removal of all EPS cladding from our high-rise blocks within 10 years, funding for waking watches until alternative simultaneous evacuation alarms are in place or the cladding is removed, and a sprinkler installation programme over five years for all high-rise blocks at a projected cost of £32.7million.”
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