Family left trapped by statutory repairs scandal

Hilary Ollason and Robin Cowdry with  twins Ed and Ollie
Hilary Ollason and Robin Cowdry with twins Ed and Ollie
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A FAMILY have spoken of being trapped in their cramped home and facing a huge bill after the statutory repairs scandal made their flat unsellable.

Five years ago Hilary Ollason, 37, and her partner Robin Cowdry, 29, were informed that thousands of pounds of repair work was needed to their building.

Since then both contractors hired to carry out the work have gone bust, all of the staff at the council handling their case have been suspended - and now it seems the work may not even have been needed.

The pair have not been able rent or sell their ground-floor flat in the Harrison Park area of south Edinburgh since the notice was served in 2007.

Along with their nine neighbours they face a bill of hundreds of thousands of pounds. They had intended to sell when Ms Ollason gave birth to their children Ed and Ollie but are now potentially tied to the cramped property for years.

Work began in August 2010 and was only due to take 16 weeks. Instead, it ran on for nearly a year and a half before being frozen in November. Both contractors involved have since gone out of business.

The couple said the window of the bedroom their twins share has been covered in scaffolding and netting since they were three months old and the couple are desperate to move.

Ms Ollason, who bought the property in 2005, said: “My boys will be two next month and all they’ve seen out of their bedroom window is scaffolding.”

Earlier this week, the Evening News told how another senior member of staff has been sacked after being caught asking a contractor for money towards a holiday – even after the corruption investigation by Deloitte and Lothian and Borders Police report had begun.

In total, eight staff have been sacked while the rest of those in the property conservation department remain suspended. One of the strands of the investigation relates to whether work undertaken was necessary. The family and their neighbours – who are not convinced the work needed to be done in the first place – staged a protest at the City Chambers during the final full council meeting of the current administration.

Original estimates for the work stood at about £140,000 – around £14,000 for each family – but residents say they now expect the final bill to be far higher.

The cost of having scaffolding in place for just four of the 20 months was £37,000 and around £70,000 was paid to one of the contractors which has since gone bust. Ms Ollason said the staff at the property conservation department she had been dealing with have since been suspended or sacked.

She said: “There’s been no communication at all since the work stopped and the people we were dealing with have all been suspended now.

“We tried to sell our property in January 2010 but the sale fell through because of it [the repairs notice]. We’re all so frustrated and angry about the council’s behaviour and the substandard work.”

Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack, who has represented many of those affected by the repairs scandal, said: “This case demonstrates the human cost of the council’s mismanagement of statutory notices.”

A city council spokesman said: “We do understand the frustrations of the residents. This is one of a number of projects that we have been working to get going again. We are aiming to re-tender in the next few weeks and we hope to write to residents shortly with an update.”

Traumatic timeline

August 2010

Scaffolding is raised and contractors move in to begin work on the 16-week project on the Ashley Terrace building.

November 2010 The project runs over with little evidence of work being carried out, according to residents.

November 2010-October 2011

Sporadic work is carried out to roof, guttering and chimneys.

November 2011

Work on the building is frozen. The two contractors working on the project are among a number who fold during the investigation into alleged corruption at the council’s property conservation department.

May 2012

Council insists new contractors will be advertised and the work will restart once a new firm is found.