Scandal-hit Edinburgh repair scheme set for return

Thousands of buildings underwent repairs primarily between the late 1990s and 2012. Picture: Andrew Stuart
Thousands of buildings underwent repairs primarily between the late 1990s and 2012. Picture: Andrew Stuart
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A COMPULSORY building repair scheme, axed amid allegations of bribery and overcharging, may be re-introduced to ensure essential repairs are carried out to the capital’s ageing tenement buildings.

Edinburgh city council leader Andrew Burns said the local authority would consider a renewed enforcement programme in December despite the service being suspended last year.

The city is unique in the UK in that the council employed contractors to carry out communal repairs to properties where homeowners could not come to an agreement, then billed occupants for the work later.

Thousands of buildings, largely residential tenements, underwent repairs primarily between the late 1990s and 2012.

However, it was halted after widespread complaints of soaring bills and claims that council officials had handed work to unapproved building firms. Seventeen staff were later sacked or resigned from their posts.

Despite the problems surrounding the so-called Statutory Notice scheme, Mr Burns said axing the system had meant that necessary work would have gone undone because owners were no longer compelled to do so.

At least 29,300 properties in Edinburgh still have a repair notice on them but in many cases work has never been carried out because the system folded.

Mr Burns said he was cautious about returning to a compulsory work programme, given the “improper” management of the previous scheme, but said that there had been public demand.

He told The Scotsman: “My own view is that there is a balance to be struck here. This might sound counter-intuitive given what we’ve just been through but there are strengths in the notice system we had, it was just implemented and managed improperly.

“We’ve got to be really careful, and engage with residents and tenants about what they want.”

At present, the council operates the voluntary, scaled-down Shared Repairs Service, which offers advice to owners who cannot come to an agreement with their neighbours over communal work, but it does not have the remit to enforce repairs.

Ross Mackay, a partner at law and property firm HBJ Gately, and chair of the Edinburgh Conveyancers’ Forum, which represents estate agents across the city, said the majority of repairs were unlikely to be carried out without a compulsory system.

Kirsten Stuart, from Strutt & Parker, said: “It would appear sensible that property owners, would want them to be kept in prime condition as neglecting the structure will only make it lose value in the long run.”

Councillors will be handed several options in December but are expected to be cautious about re-introducing the scheme.

The local authority paid contractors for work up-front over the course of several years, and as a result is owed about £22 million by homeowners. In many cases, owners are refusing to pay because they believe that work was unnecessary, or that they were heavily overcharged.