17 masonry falls a month in Edinburgh

CHUNKS of masonry are falling from buildings in the Capital at the rate of one every two days, new figures reveal.

The news is a major blow to the council, which has come up with a number of high-profile initiatives to encourage property owners to take more responsibility for making sure their buildings are safe.

The shocking new statistics were released today by the local authority to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the death of Christine Foster, an Australian waitress killed when heavy stones fell from Ryan’s Bar in the West End.

The catalogue of incidents include three huge slabs of stone plummeting into the back garden of a tenement earlier this year.

And one of the council’s own buildings came under investigation in March after a large chunk of masonry fell 40ft from the roof of the Churchhill Theatre in Morningside on to the front steps. Just last weekend, council workmen removed a massive piece of wobbling stonework which was posing a danger to the public from a block of flats.

And a heavy stone ornamental ball was removed from a rooftop in Bruntsfield.

The council would not say exactly where many of the incidents took place because of discussions with private owners.

But it said it is "concerned" about the figures, and has started an awareness blitz aimed at informing homeowners of their responsibilities.

Starting next month, the local authority will begin a pilot study in Edinburgh, which is expected to form a city-wide strategy on building maintenance. It will see residents in 100 typical city centre tenement flats assess their own buildings for safety using instructions provided by the council.

Building safety officials will carry out their own assessment of 100 similar properties and compare the results.

If the council are satisfied that the self-assessment system can work effectively, then it will be used as the basis for a city-wide action plan.

The council will also issue hundreds of leaflets to residents, which tell people of the dangers of not inspecting their property.

It is estimated that privately-owned homes will need 650 million of investment over the next ten years.

Edinburgh’s property management leader Councillor Brian Fallon today urged city residents to go outside and inspect their homes.

He said: "It is really important that people know they are responsible for their own properties. It is not the council’s job to maintain privately-owned buildings.

"Owners of buildings, including tenement flats, should arrange for their property to be regularly inspected. We recommend a general overview every year, and an extensive professional survey at least every five years.

"Proper maintenance will help owners avoid expensive repairs in the future - a small bill now could multiply by five or six times if nothing is done. It will also minimise the risk of falling masonry, which can cause death or serious injury."

Earlier this year the council was accused of not doing enough to prevent falling masonry, after 81 incidents involving ageing buildings were recorded in January.

The council fears thousands of property-owners are risking a repeat of the incident at Ryan’s Bar in June 2000, when Miss Foster was killed after a piece of falling masonry smashed through a glass roof.

A fatal accident inquiry into the death ruled that it was a needless tragedy - if repair work on the building had been carried out properly, the stones would not have become detached.

Sheriff Charles Stoddart recommended that the council set up an inspection system to help prevent similar accidents and to carry out immediate checks on all buildings thought to pose a risk.

After the Ryan’s Bar tragedy, the council carried out a buildings audit and issued 46,000 letters - but only 14 per cent of owners replied to the survey. The council serves around 18,000 statutory repair notices to individual owners, affecting 2000 buildings every year. An emergency response team investigates over 1200 reports of dangerous masonry each year.

But earlier this year the council was accused of not doing enough to prevent falling masonry, after a record 81 incidents involving ageing buildings were recorded in January - mainly because of the windy weather.

Robin Adamson, the council’s property conservation manager, said: "We’ve now established a new initiative to identify buildings that could pose a risk to public safety. "This summer we will pilot a self-assessed building audit in a chosen trial area, providing information to residents so they can carry out their own survey.

"The information gathered will be recorded and compared with results from our control audit in another part of the city. The areas tested will not be the worst in the city, but a typical tenement area in a central location.

"We are also starting an information campaign about maintaining private property, using a series of leaflets and articles. It reinforces the message that owners are responsible for inspecting and maintaining their property and will give practical advice on inspections."