Calls made for a national fund to deal with crumbling concrete

Friday June 23rd 2023

Siporex West Lothian

Demolition work begins on houses at the Deans South estate in Livingston while former residents watched on.

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Stuart Sommerville

Calls have been made for a national fund to be set up to help local councils tacking vital but expensive repairs as a result crumbling concrete.

West Lothian’s Linlithgow councillor Sally Pattle praised local officials for their swift response to tackling the problems around the use of RAAC (Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete) in council buildings.

Also known as Siporex, RAAC has now been discovered in public buildings across the United Kingdom including schools, theatres and hospitals, with the bill to replace and repair what has already been found potentially running into billions of pounds.

Ms Pattle, Lib Dem, called for a national fund to tackle the issue, as she told a meeting of the council’s Executive that she was “delighted” at the response by council officers both technically and financially to tackle the problem.

West Lothian has taken the lead in confronting the potential for problems with concrete roofs in schools and other council buildings since 2021 and has an ongoing structural survey of its estate.

Similar roofing problems are only now just being discovered in public buildings in neighbouring local authorities including Edinburgh and East Lothian. In East Lothian Brunton Theatre closed as ‘crumbling concrete’ found in roof

She told the meeting: “I think we are only just starting to see how big the problem is on a national level for all local authorities who are starting to appreciate the scale and level of the work that needs to be undertaken. So I think we are really lucky [in the response by our officers].

She added: “I very much hope that when a national fund is put in place, because it’s going to have to be, that we are able to retrospectively apply for funding.”

She was responding to a report from Head of Finance, Donald Forrest, which detailed funding set aside to repair roof issues in Blackburn’s St Kentigern’s Academy and other schools and community buildings in the area.

Mr Forrest said that £1.129m had been set aside from the general revenue budget to accommodate the creation of temporary classrooms and the move for the Craft Design and Technology department at the school.

Councillor Diane Calder asked if any capital funding had been set aside for St Kent’s other than the “reactive” spend from revenue budgets.

Mr Forrest described the St Kent’s issue specifically, but also the wider problems of RAAC roofs as one of the most challenging issues in his “decades in local government finance.”

Financial officers at the council presented plans last month which proposed partial demolition at St Kent’s and new build as the most practicable way to solve the RAAC roof problems. That alone would cost £30m.

The finance team has written to the Scottish Government seeking £10m to make up a shortfall to enable the plan to go ahead and plans will come back to the Executive in the Autumn.

West Lothian was first confronted with the RAAC roofing issues in the Lanthorn community centre in Livingston in 2021. Repair work there is estimated at around £5m. There are issues too at Whitburn Community centre where the initial bill for repair was estimated at £2m.

In February West Lothian Council agreed £10 million to fix structural issues at three West Lothian schools.

Council Executive gave their support to proposals in order to address construction issues at Knightsridge Primary in Livingston, Windyknowe Primary in Bathgate and Our Lady’s Primary in Stoneyburn.

The problems with RAAC first came to light 20 years ago on the Deans South housing estate in Livingston which was built in the early 1970s by Livingston Development Corporation using a similar form of aerated concrete in roof panels.

The panels were designed for use as roofing material being lighter than conventional concrete, but strengthened by steel rods. However they have been found to be porous and the concrete – called Siporex in the Deans houses – crumbles and degrades.

The council declared Deans South uninhabitable and cleared tenants out twenty years ago. Those who had bought homes fought an 18 year battle to win a “home for a home.”

That campaign was won in November last year. New homes will be built by Springfield Properties as part of a £9m redevelopment of the area.

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