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Bristol high rises to be inspected for fire safety after Twinnell House tragedy

New government regulations require the council to inspect fire safety at all the tower blocks it owns.

Reports

All 62 high-rise council house blocks in Bristol will be inspected for fire safety in the wake of the Twinnell House tragedy due to new government regulations.

The city council is investing up to £1million on the checks, which are required under new regulations from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

Cabinet members approved the measures, which also include another £1 million apiece to refurbish rusting playgrounds that are “no longer safe to use” and to cover the authority’s energy price increases at the buildings.

It came as mayor Marvin Rees urged tenants not to leave electrical items on charge overnight and praised the response to the fatal Easton blaze.

Asylum-seeker Abdul Jabar Oryakhel, 30, died after falling from a 16th-floor window while trying to escape the blaze in a flat early on Sunday, 25 September.

Flames broke out when an electric bike charger caught light, and three other people in the flat managed to escape, two by clinging outside a window before firefighters pulled them to safety.

Mr Oryakhel’s wife and seven children in Afghanistan had hoped to follow him to the UK, and Mayor Rees told the cabinet meeting on Tuesday that the council was looking into how it could support them.

‘A sobering reminder of what can happen’

Labour cabinet member for housing Councillor Tom Renhard told members £1 million from a £3.8 million underspend on the 2021/22 housing revenue account (HRA), which is income ring-fenced for the authority’s council homes, would pay for the new fire safety inspections required following the Grenfell disaster in 2017.

He said: “Fire safety is a hugely important area for Bristol City Council and we’ve invested over £2.5 million a year in fire safety measures across our council properties.

“We’ve been regularly reviewing how our buildings are operating and that our fire safety measures are up to date, working very closely with Avon Fire & Rescue Service.

“The recent tragic case at Twinnell House is a sobering reminder that incidents can happen, and having fire safety measures in place is really important to protect the whole buildings and the residents in the event of an emergency.

“The measures worked, they kept the fire contained.”

Renhard said new regulations required the council to inspect all 62 blocks, comprising 4,400 domestic flats, and that a pilot phase on four assessments was underway.

He said inspection reports and any improvements needed would be shared with residents. Recently, the Cable reported how the council had kept residents of tower blocks in Kingsdown in the dark about fire safety issues uncovered by a previous inspection.

Carolina House, another high-rise council block

Marvin Rees said: “Fire safety has always been a priority but what we saw in that [Twinnell House] fire was a fire broke out in a top-floor flat, did not spread, our cladding did not combust, the fire was contained within the flat, the fire service had access to it.

“We didn’t need a full evacuation in the end but when people were evacuated it was done in an orderly way that enabled the fire service to get access to the fire and extinguish it and then our teams went into the building on a clean-up operation.

“It should give us confidence in the measures in place in our blocks of flats.

“One of the key pieces of advice that the fire service and safety officers were giving is please do not leave electrical items of any sort charging overnight, from phones to scooters to e-bikes, and certainly don’t leave them in bedrooms and hallways.

“If you are in a home, think ahead of time of what your exit routes would be and make sure you keep them as clear as possible.”

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The cabinet report said: “Independent assessments have been completed to assess the fire safety measures in place.

“Bristol City Council believes that our high-rise blocks of flats are safe, and the previous independent assessments have corroborated this.

“However, new regulations have been produced following the Grenfell Inquiry and we are now required to plan a new inspection programme for the blocks that are over 18 metres. 

“A pilot phase of work to complete four assessments is underway, to test the market and identify costs.

“This indicates costs at up to £18,000 per inspection, with a total estimated cost in excess of £800,000.”

Up to £1 million will also be spent on some of the 21 playgrounds and multi-use games areas on HRA land next to tower blocks. The cabinet report said: “These provisions need to be refurbished, or failing that removed, as they are no longer safe for use.”

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  • How did a fire risk assessment miss the fact that the fire brigade’s equipment could only reach the 9th out of 16 floors especially if the front door was the only escape route – and this was on fire! And the only escape was through the window 45 metres high at Twinnell. It was tragic. How many blocks are like this where fire brigade’s access is restricted?

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