A potentially dangerous building material linked to cases where school roofs have collapsed without warning may have been used in the construction of up to 15 council buildings in Edinburgh, it has emerged.

Concerns over Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) have resulted in an investigation by the city council who would not confirm if any of the buildings currently being surveyed are educational facilities.

The bubbly, lightweight concrete was commonly used in the construction of roofs and walls in the UK from the 1950s to 80s but is now believed to pose a “risk to life” after incidents of school ceilings caving in.

In a safety briefing notice issued last September, the Office of Government Property (OGP) said the material “is now life-expired and liable to collapse”.

It noted this “has already happened in two schools with little or no notice”.

A Freedom of Information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed that The City of Edinburgh Council has identified 15 buildings “that may have been constructed” using aerated concrete, also known as Siporex.

The council said it is “currently awaiting a quotation for an external consultant to undertake further intrusive surveys”.

It added it would not disclose which buildings are under investigation – which as well as schools could include community centres, libraries and council offices – until the surveys are complete.

Meanwhile West Lothian Council has agreed to spend £10 million to replace RAAC panels found in three of its primary schools. The worst affected, Livingston’s Knightsridge Primary, was shut with immediate effect in November with after an investigation uncovered extensive structural issues.

If a similarly sum is needed to fix walls and ceilings in local authority-owned buildings across Edinburgh this is likely to cause a headache for the council. This year’s budget for infrastructure investment is already facing a £134million cut, with plans to scale back new school buildings and retrofitting works to plug the gap.

School construction failures in the capital were previously exposed following the collapse of a wall at Oxgangs Primary in 2016, which led to the closure of 17 schools in the city amid significant concerns over building standards.

The potential dangers of Siporex have been flagged with local councils by the UK Government since 2018, after the roof of Singlewell Primary in Kent suddenly gave way. Luckily, no one was injured as the incident happened on a weekend.

The Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS), which first warned of the problem over 20 years ago, said the following year that ‘sight must not be lost of the fact that the collapse was sudden with very little noticeable warning’.

Furthermore, last summer leaked emails sent to Downing Street by senior officials at the Department for Education said many school buildings  posed a “risk to life” as a result of the RAAC crisis.

by Donald Turvill, Local Democracy Reporter.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) is a public service news agency. It is funded by the BBC, provided by the local news sector (in Edinburgh that is Reach plc (the publisher behind Edinburgh Live and The Daily Record) and used by many qualifying partners. Local Democracy Reporters cover news about top-tier local authorities and other public service organisations.


Source: Edinburgh Post

Councils across England are warning that homes created using permitted development rights are a potential threat to people’s health and wellbeing, with the most vulnerable people in society being more at risk.

A new report ‘Housing for a fairer society: The role of councils in ensuring stronger communities’ has found that:

  • Half of councils in England think permitted development housing could threaten people’s health and wellbeing
  • Half of councils in England think vulnerable people are disproportionately negatively affected by permitted development
  • Demand for affordable housing has remained unchanged for four consecutive years, with 59% of UK councils reporting ‘severe’ shortages
  • The findings, published in a report by APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) and written by the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), show that local authorities across
  • the UK are reporting ‘severe’ shortages of affordable housing for the fourth consecutive year, with only 2% claiming their need is ‘not substantial’

Further, three quarters of councils in England and Wales said they rely on developer contributions as their main source of income for delivering affordable housing, calling into question the efficacy of the government’s market-led approach to housing delivery.

Paul O’Brien, Chief Executive of APSE, said “It is ironic that as we celebrate a 100 years since the advent of council housing, and the ‘Addison Act’ standards on space and public amenities that were so innovative and important to the health and wellbeing of communities we are now witnessing a serious regression of these protections.

“Permitted developments are in danger of becoming the new slum housing of the 21st century, de facto permitting a dangerous slide into deregulated and ultimately damaging housing provision.”

Fiona Howie, Chief Executive of the TCPA added “Local authorities have a powerful role in shaping existing and new places that can enhance people’s health and wellbeing, but it is essential that they have the tools they need. This report highlights there is still much to be done to enable local authorities to deliver the affordable houses people so desperately need.”

Among the report’s recommendations is the suspension of the right to buy in England, the reinstatement of a definition of affordable housing which links affordability to income and the adoption of ‘community benefit clauses’ in planning policy to ensure that local authorities consistently maximise the wider benefits of the construction and development process.

Two years on from the Grenfell Tower fire, Shelter is warning the government must listen to the third of families with children in social housing who feel less safe in their homes and take urgent action to prevent further tragedies.

The government is proposing a new building safety regulator, but the housing charity fears this will not go far enough to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all tenants is protected. That is why Shelter is standing with Grenfell United to call on the government to introduce a tough, new consumer regulator that protects tenants and proactively inspects social landlords.

New figures released by Shelter show that over half (56%) of social renters in England – five million people – have experienced a problem with their home in the last three years, including electrical hazards, gas leaks and faulty lifts. Among those who had a problem, one in 10 had to report it more than 10 times, suggesting tenants are still being failed by poor regulation.

Worryingly, the survey carried out by YouGov shows that over the same period more than 400,000 people encountered an issue with fire safety, which also affected their neighbours in over two-fifths of cases.

Shelter is concerned that the current regulator of social housing exists mainly to oversee finances and is not exclusively focussed on addressing the concerns of residents or tackling problem landlords head-on. In fact, almost three-quarters (72%) of social tenants in England have never heard of the current regulator.

The research also reveals a deep mistrust in the government since the Grenfell Tower fire, with half saying they have less trust in the government to keep social tenants safe in their homes. Another third says the government’s response has made no difference. This is why Shelter and Grenfell United believe that only a new consumer regulator can protect tenants and rebuild trust.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said “Social tenants living in Grenfell Tower raised serious safety concerns before the fire, but they were ignored. Two years on, social renters are still being failed by poor regulation and people are still fighting to be heard.

“In the wake of food scandals and financial scandals, the government responded with new regulators to protect consumers, and that’s exactly what we need for social housing. It cannot be right that scores of complaints and problems that affect whole blocks of flats, like faulty lifts or gas leaks, go unheard. We need a new regulator that’s firmly on the side of tenants.

“Tinkering with the current system just isn’t good enough when people have lost trust in it to keep them safe. That’s why we stand with Grenfell United in calling on the government to establish a new consumer regulator, which inspects social landlords and listens to groups of tenants when they say something isn’t right.”

Natasha Elcock, Chair of Grenfell United, the bereaved families and survivors’ group added “People were raising the alarm about fire safety in Grenfell before the fire, but they were ignored and belittled. The current housing regulator did nothing for us, it was entirely invisible. And two years later, despite all the promises, we still hear from people across the country who are not being listened to about their homes.

“If we want to stop another Grenfell fire, we need serious change – change that will genuinely make a difference to people living in social housing. We need a new system, not a rebrand of the current one. The government introduced a new regime for the banking industry after the financial crash, it should be doing the same for the housing sector. After all, what could be more important than people’s homes.”

A report published today by APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) and written and researched by the TCPA finds that 98% of UK councils surveyed describe their need for affordable homes as either ‘severe’ or ‘moderate’.

UK councils are becoming increasingly unable to meet demands for affordable housing and 98% now describe their need as either ‘severe’ or ‘moderate’, with only 1% claiming that their need is not substantial.

The survey of 166 local authorities in Britain highlights the pressure on councils to meet the growing demand for affordable housing due to a lack of new homes being built and that many of those that are being built are not affordable to those in need.

The research highlights the cumulative impact of existing housing and planning policies in England—such as the 1 per cent annual rent reductions in the social rented sector and the continued deregulation and reform of the planning system—have reduced the ability of councils to secure genuinely affordable homes available for social rent.

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the TCPA, said “Our research reveals that Britain is facing an acute housing crisis with councils across the country increasingly unable to meet the need for affordable housing.

“The government must make tackling the housing crisis a priority. An ambition to increase housing numbers is not enough, we need to ensure that the homes that are built are affordable and well designed.”

By exploring a range of issues faced by councils, this study has identified how local authorities are already taking a more active role in housing delivery through entrepreneurial approaches, such as setting up local housing companies and innovative approaches to partnership working. Over two thirds (69%) of councils surveyed said that they already had or were thinking about setting up a local authority housing company either on their own or in partnership.

Paul O’Brien, Chief Executive of APSE concluded “A new wave of council homes would help support local economic growth, jobs and skills in our economy; housing could be an effective driver for a renewed industrial strategy but to achieve this we need to place local councils at the heart of delivery on housing need. That means the Government must provide the financial freedoms and flexibility for councils to deliver solutions to our chronic housing shortage.”

Local authorities across England will receive a share of £56.5 million to help support their preparations for Brexit.

The Treasury announced in December that MHCLG would receive £35 million to prepare for Brexit. MHCLG has now added an extra £21.5 million funding using finance from its 2018 to 2019 budget.

Councils will receive £20 million this financial year (2018 to 2019) and £20 million in 2019 to 2020 to spend on planning and strengthening their resources.

A further £10 million will be available in the next financial year (2019 to 2020). This funding is intended to help local authorities with specific costs which may arise following Brexit.

£1.5 million will be allocated in 2018 to 2019 only to local authorities facing immediate impacts from local ports, with the decision on the allocation and distribution of that funding to be announced shortly.

A further £5 million will be split by teams in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, local authorities, and Local Resilience Forums for specific purposes such as strengthening preparations and supporting communities.

The funding will help councils to adapt to the changes caused by Brexit, ensuring their local authority is prepared ahead of 29 March, whilst also protecting vital local services.

Councils will decide how to allocate their funding. It is expected that money will be spent on resources like recruiting extra staff to ensure councils have the capacity to provide timely and accurate information to residents who have questions on how Brexit will affect them.

Communities Secretary Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, said “Local authorities have a critical role to play in making a success of Brexit in their areas.

“I’m determined to ensure councils have the resources they need, which is why I’m releasing £56.5 million of extra finance to help them to deliver essential services and keep residents well-informed.

“I will continue to work closely with local leaders to ensure they are prepared to respond to any Brexit scenario.

“This funding will not be the only resource councils receive from central government to fund Brexit costs. The government has been clear that departments will assess and, if appropriate, fund any potential new requirements of councils as part of EU Exit work they are undertaking.”

The Secretary of State will also continue to engage with the sector through the EU Exit Local Government Delivery Board and regular communications with stakeholders across the sector.

Local authorities could mitigate the rising cost of highway repair and maintenance by employing simple preventative solutions, according to road reinforcement experts.

The claim comes as the Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey reports total carriageway maintenance expenditure across England and Wales in 2017-18 was around £1.93 billion — an increase on the previous year’s £1.66 billion.

The survey, published by the Asphalt Industry Alliance, also highlights a gap of £3.3 million between the funds that local authority highways teams in England and Wales received in the last 12 months and the amount needed to keep the carriageway in ‘reasonable order’.

One in five of local roads in the UK is now deemed to be structurally poor, meaning it has less than five years of life remaining, reports show.

Taking a longer-term, preventative approach to road maintenance would reduce the need for regular remedial work; a regular drain on local authority budgets.

Jochen Bromen, Application Technology Manager, Asphalt Systems, at pavement reinforcement specialist Tensar, said “anything that represents a more permanent repair (rather than patching) is a good thing; the taxpayer benefits, the local authority can spend money on more road maintenance or infrastructure projects, motorists face fewer repairs to their cars, and the total economic impact is ultimately reduced.

“One pothole is now filled every 21 seconds in the UK, and although the Government’s Pothole Action Fund recently injected an extra £100 million towards the repair of affected road surfaces, following a winter of severe weather conditions, the Local Government Association claims funding “will provide just over 1% of what is needed to tackle our current £9.3 billion local roads repair backlog.”

Combined with rising asphalt costs, innovative approaches are increasingly needed to further safeguard the UK’s highways.

A composite paving grid can effectively mitigate reflective cracking in new pavements caused by joints or cracks in the old structure.

“The technology combines the reinforcing function of a grid with the stress-relief and interlayer barrier function of a paving fabric,” Bromen explained. “This type of maintenance solution is simple and economical and can extend the operating life of a road, reducing whole-life costs.”

The ALARM survey also found a huge disparity between recommended frequency of road resurfacing work and the current reality. It is advised that resurfacing should occur every 10 to 20 years. However, the reporting of such activity has plummeted to once every 92 years in England.

“Without sufficient funding to properly resurface the UK’s roads within the recommended time frame, councils are left facing hefty road repair bills, which add up to more in the long run,” Bromen added. “It’s like re-icing a cake that’s crumbling underneath — an unsustainable solution.

“By taking a whole-life approach to road maintenance and investing in the correct technology to extend their lifespan, local authorities will realise huge long-term savings.”