Edinburgh City Council cuts will hit private flats as repairs axed

There are fears over ongoing safety in stairwells. Picture: Greg Macvean
There are fears over ongoing safety in stairwells. Picture: Greg Macvean
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TENS of thousands of private flat residents are set to be hit with new bills for stair lighting after the city council scrapped its repair service.

The local authority has traditionally provided the free repair and maintenance service to the private residents of about 71,000 properties across the city at a cost of £2.1 million per year.

But it is the only local authority in Scotland to do so and councillors voted to withdraw the service from July 1 in communal areas of tenements where all the flats are privately owned, generating a saving of £1m.

The council is now writing to all affected residents with information on how to appoint a private factor to take over the repairs.

But the decision has sparked claims it will make stairwells more dangerous and that it will lead to payment disputes between neighbours.

Bruce Thompson, a 71-year-old tenement flat owner from Comely Bank, described the move as “dreadful” and “shocking”.

He said: “We have got to a stage when you have to ask ‘just what are you paying rates for?’ The council is gradually withdrawing amenities which people have had for years. This is dangerous. You will have people going up three flights of stairs at night when it’s dark in winter.

“Rest assured there will be disputes over who’s paying for it so it won’t get done. Older people aren’t going to be confident or happy.”

As part of the budget process, the Green group had proposed retaining the repair service for stair lighting while seeking to recover some of the costs from private owners.

Green finance spokesman Councillor Gavin Corbett said the move would have ensured a service remained for safety reasons while addressing the budget gap.

He said: “I’m climbing a lot of tenement stairs just now, as part of the election, and I can see first hand how unsafe stairs become when lights are out.

“In a city of so many tenements and common stairs it makes no sense to be taking the risk that withdrawing the service poses.

“I simply don’t have confidence that factors or owners acting together will fill the void.”

However, Tory finance spokesman Iain Whyte supported the cost-cutting measures but also stressed that he had wanted to see them “phased in”.

He said: “People who live in modern developments with factors already pay for light repair service so it seems odd that taxpayers are picking up the bill for others.”

The city will continue to provide a repair and maintenance service to tenements where there is a single council-owned property within the block.

When a block is fully privately owned, the council will continue to meet the energy costs but the owners will be legally responsible to keep stair lighting in good working order.

Cllr Ricky Henderson, the city’s housing convener, said a letter had been issued to 71,000 properties about the change.

He added: “We are also providing information to residents concerned to support them to appoint a factor or company to carry out the repair and maintenance of stair lighting.”

john.connell@edinburghnews.com