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Hundreds of Public Buildings Urgently Need Structural Inspections

Leading Scottish architects are calling for critical building inspections to take place after defects were found in a number of Edinburgh schools.

This would apply to all public buildings constructed in this century. Each would have to be checked for serious latent defects that could leave them unsound.

The appeal was a response to a recent report into the Edinburgh schools scandal, which cast a spotlight on 17 buildings after it was revealed that construction work had not been signed off properly.

The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) warned that lives could be at risk due to issues with the self-certification of these structures.

The situation came to public attention in January after a wall collapse occurred at an Edinburgh primary school. 17 schools were later closed after structural issues were discovered.

The schools were built by the Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP) during the first segment of a 2005 public-private partnership. This deal was a component of a private finance agreement worth £360m, in which 13 schools were constructed as part of a joint venture between Amey and Miller Construction.

A new report by procurement expert and architect John Coles has revealed that these problems could also exist in other publicly funded developments.

Neil Baxter, chief executive for RIAS, claimed that there had been too much emphasis on pursuing profit at the expense of safety by project developers and contractors. He also called for report recommendations to be acted upon.

Mr Baxter warned that if nothing is done in this regard, there is a strong possibility that people will die.

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He added that in contracts where the emphasis was on saving money, there have been a number of times when architects have reported misgivings about issues related to specific building safety and quality.

He added that the system cultivates a conflict of interest: the contractor minimises cost to ensue profit for shareholders. This can be contradictory to the long-term interest of the public.

Willie Watt, president of RIAS, said that there was no time to delay on the report’s recommendations. He said that the responsibility of the commissioning authorities was obvious: an inspection process by qualified experts should begin immediately.

Mr Watt pointed out that the RIAS’ own contribution to the inquiry strongly agreed that problems would be inevitable unless diligence was applied at every stage of the building process, and that it was fortunate that no one had been injured or killed.

A Scottish government spokesperson said that safety for the occupants of public buildings was paramount, and as a result the housing minister has contacted all local authorities regarding issues that the report raises.

The union Unite has called for an inquiry into the practice of using private finance models to construct public facilities and schools across Scotland.  It highlighted the need to determine whether these types of contracts deliver safety as well as value.


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