Homelessness costs spiral in Dalkeith and Loanhead

Friday August 28th 2020


The first and second floors of the building in Jarnac Court are being refurbished into temporary homeless accommodation

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Marie Sharp

Concern over the spiralling costs of two homelessness projects have been raised after councillors were asked to approve nearly double the original budget to convert a former police station.

A meeting of Midlothian Council was this week told that the original estimate for turning Loanhead Police Station into temporary accommodation for seven tenants had been £350,000 but had now increased to more than £600,000, with additional costs likely.

Kevin Anderson, executive director, told a virtual meeting of the full council that the cost had “effectively doubled”.

He said: “The original plan didn’t take into account the change of use for residential purposes so subsequently didn’t account for the improvements which are required; also as you’ll understand the new sprinkler installation requirements that there are post the Grenfell incident, and also in terms of additional security measures we put in place to safeguard residents and any concerns from the communities which we have experienced before in Pentland and Bonnyrigg with these temporary accommodation units.

“So consequently that has effectively doubled the cost in terms of Loanhead.”

The news came after another project to turn former offices at Jarnac Court in Dalkeith into temporary accommodation saw cost almost treble since the original estimate.

The Jarnac Court project, which will house about 22 tenants, has seen its costs rise from £413,000 to nearly £1.4million after councillors approved plans to carry out further work on the building’s exterior.

Councillor Colin Cassidy described the additional cost as a “slap in the face” to residents.

He said: “The rising cost of these projects is something that is really concerning for my constituents, especially in Dalkeith where for 20 years they’ve been promising a new town centre and suddenly they’re slapped in the face with an almost tripling of an estimate for the repairs on the building at Jarnac Court.

“We really must do better for the public of Midlothian when it comes to this because the lack of communication seems to be a real problem.

“If you go on any social media site, Midlothian Council is being dragged through the mud because these projects are going on with such high overcosts.”

Councillor Stephen Curran called for a request from officers for councillors to approve the increased cost of the Loanhead Police Station project to be referred until October for a fuller report to come back outlining the options available to the council.

Councillor Dianne Alexander said: “I am concerned at the cost per head at Loanhead Police Station. It just seems an awful lot of money.

“I wonder if there is a better solution to using Loanhead to get more people in or a better solution altogether.”

And fellow councillor Debbi McCall added: “I am appalled that we are looking at almost double the cost. I can’t see how we, as councillors, are supposed to make decisions when costs just seem to absolutely rocket.

“We are trying to do our jobs with our hands tied behind our backs.”

Councillor Kelly Parry said she had been talking to local residents in Loanhead about the project and supported it.

She said: “I am so supportive of anything we can do to try and help homeless people in Midlothian but in trying to persuade people about the value of this project to then see the details and how it has sky rocketed has been really disappointing because I was really behind it.

“I don’t want Loanhead to miss out on this opportunity but it has to be good value for money.”

However, Councillor Margot Russell urged colleagues to remember the reason behind the projects.

She said: “We must remember at the heart of this are people who, often for no fault of their own, have become homeless and we have responsibility for them and must move ahead as quickly as humanly possible to get these buildings up and running so people get the security of even being in temporary housing.”

Councillors agreed to defer a decision on Loanhead until a further report on options was produced in October.

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