School closures: Schools ‘not inspected’ after construction

Oxgangs Primary. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Oxgangs Primary. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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CONSTRUCTION of the 17 Edinburgh schools closed amid safety fears was “self-certified” by the private finance consortium building them rather than being inspected by the council, city chiefs have confirmed.

City council leader Andrew Burns said the local authority had “undertaken all its legal responsibilities” and the schools had met “all the relevant building standards”.

He said: “Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP) and its agents self-certified to the council, as they were entitled to do so, that the buildings complied with all the relevant building standards.” Asked whether ESP had been negligent, Mr Burns said: “That will come out in due course.”

He insisted the council “will be making sure whoever is responsible for this is held to account”.

The council yesterday announced arrangements had been put in place for 5,900 pupils at the affected buildings to return to classes, either in their own school or at another location.

Almost 7,700 have had their lessons disrupted after the council announced on Friday the schools would not reopen as planned after the Easter break because of concerns about their construction.

The majority of the 2,000 pupils preparing for exams at the five high schools involved resumed lessons on Wednesday, although the council has revealed practical exams due to take place have been cancelled.

READ MORE: Faulty schools could be shut until summer

Work is continuing to make arrangements for some remaining S1 to S3 pupils who have not yet been able to return.

The schools were all built or refurbished under the same public-private partnership (PPP) scheme around ten years ago by ESP.

Mr Burns said the council had now “received early indications that suggest evidence of faults across all 17 affected schools to a varying extent”.

The council is withholding its £1.5 million monthly payments to ESP.

Earlier this week leading Edinburgh architect Malcolm Fraser spoke out on the pitfalls of controversial PPP contracts.

He said: “Things can go wrong on site under any method, but it is particular that this sort of method [PPP] is one of self-regulation. Contractors are trusted to police themselves, so in cases like this there is no independent engineer, no independent architect that is tasked to stand outside the process, inspect the work and ensure these sort of things don’t happen.”

A council spokesman said: “The structural designs were self-certified by ESP’s agent under the relevant building regulations in place at the time.

“Once construction was complete, their agent also self-certified to the council that the buildings complied with the relevant building standards. In order to do this, they would have to have been satisfied that each school was complete, in accordance with building standards, and that the building warrant conditions had been met.

“The council did carry out reasonable inspections to ensure that the buildings appeared to satisfy the terms of the building warrant. However, the regulatory system acknowledges that local authorities cannot reasonably monitor each and every aspect of all construction work being carried out.

“As such, reliance was placed upon suitably qualified individuals and the council would not have been responsible for the quality of work done or for supervising builders.”

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