Corruption scandal forces Edinburgh City Council to axe property department
COUNCIL leaders in Edinburgh are set to scrap the authority’s beleaguered property conservation department and overhaul the system for carrying out urgent building repairs.
Homeowners will be left to organise all but emergency cases in future under proposals unveiled by the authority, which has had to suspend and sack a string of staff following a corruption investigation.
It is understood that property owners will be encouraged to appoint factors to carry out regular inspections, while the council will carry out its own surveys based on the official “buildings at risk” register.
A report on the proposed shake-up admitted the existing service had suffered “significant reputational damage”.
Yesterday, concerns were raised that the proposed system of checks will not be rigorous enough and that many unsafe buildings are not on the register, which is run by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.
More than 100 buildings across Edinburgh are on the current register, but many of these are listed buildings that are lying empty.
The council introduced a new system for monitoring historic buildings following the tragedy at Ryan’s Bar in the West End in 2000, when Australian waitress Christine Foster was killed by falling masonry. The sheriff who presided over the fatal accident inquiry ordered the council to carry out an immediate audit of properties across the city.
However, the corruption investigation was launched after it emerged that the annual cost of statutory repairs had soared from £9.2 million in 2005 to more than £30m. Proposals being put out to public consultation state that emergency repairs would only be carried out by the council as “a last resort”. The council could create its own property factoring service or put contracts out to tender.
Council finance convener Alasdair Rankin said: “We must have a clear break with the past to reassure the public that the council has cleaned up its act.
“While we understand the benefits that the previous system, when working properly, had to some property owners, the circumstances in which the council intervenes on maintaining private properties need to be much more under control.
“Ultimately, the responsibility to keep a building safe lies with the owner. But we all have a shared interest in the fabric of our city being safe and sound.”
But Marion Williams, director of the Cockburn Association, the city’s main heritage body, said: “The problem with the buildings at risk register is that it is often too late by the time a building ends up on it. The system has to change, but the council must remember why this system was introduced.”
It is hoped the new-look service will be in use by spring 2013.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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