RIAS publishes “urgent” call to action regarding the safety of Edinburgh’s public buildings

The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) has called for an “urgent call to action” regarding the potential danger in public buildings across Scotland

The press release referenced an inquiry report into Edinburgh’s PPP1 Schools that was written following the fall of nine tonnes of masonry at Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh in January 2016.

According to the RIAS press release, the inquiry, also known as the Cole Report, “strongly signals that it is incumbent on every public commissioning authority to read this important, carefully written and considered report

“This will require significant expertise at substantial cost – however not to any cost to lives.  Public bodies have a duty of care to protect public health and safety.”

Professor John Cole CBE, the construction industry expert who headed the inquiry report, presented the nine remits of the report on February 9 2017 to the City of Edinburgh Council.

Those remits included: reasons for the wall collapse; use of private finance for budding projects; the Council’s role in providing quality assurance of the buildings; contractual arrangements between the Council and the Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP), the body that manage and run schools on the behalf of the Council; and recommendations for the Council, other bodies and the wider industry.

The Council have responded with a press release states that the key findings for the 250 page report.

They claim that the collapse of the wall was due to poor construction and inadequate supervision, insufficient independent quality assurance and poor record keeping by the Council and ESP and ineffective quality assurance measures within the construction industry.

They also defend their decision to close the 17 [PPP1] schools, stating that the alternative education arrangement put in place for 8,300 pupils were a “remarkable feat”, and claim that the issues found in Edinburgh are likely widespread issues facing all public buildings.

According to the RIAS press release, the report raised that “other properties built around the same period (2000-2005) [as Oxgangs Primary School] and under similar procurement regimes [City of Edinburgh Council and its PPP1 partners]… have lacked ‘properly resourced and structured scrutiny of the building work’”

The Edinburgh Council’s Chief Executive, Andrew Kerr said in the press release: “Clearly there are lessons for the Council and I will now be drawing up an action plan to take our recommendations forward to ensure everyone can have confidence in the safety of all of our buildings.

“The Council, our public and private sector partners both in Scotland and across the United Kingdom, need to take on board the issues raised and address the concerns highlighted in the report as they have far-reaching implications for the construction industry.”

Willie Watt, President of RIAS commented in the press release: “When major inquiry reports are published there is a tendency for everyone to breathe a sign of relief, mutter ‘well that’s that dealt with’ and move on. That should not be the case with this, extremely well researched and deeply concerning report.”

Watt urged that inspections should be a high priority, highlighting that scrutiny of the buildings is necessary to ensure public safety.

Minister for Housing and Local Government Kevin Stewart, said in a statement: “The safety of people in public buildings is an absolute priority and I am very concerned by some of the findings highlighted in this report.

“I have been clear with local authorities that any instance of non-compliance is completely unacceptable. 

“As I consider this report in full, I will be looking at the system with which we hold building owners, developers and compliance authorities to account during construction. 

“I am determined that we do all we can at both local and national level to ensure the building standards regime is as strong as possible and crucially that it is complied with to ensure the safety of our public buildings.”

Image: M J Richardson

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