£30m works lead to calls for statutory notice probe

Complaints made over high cost of repairs across city . . .

THERE have been calls for an inquiry into whether the city council is over-using its powers to force repairs on properties – after it emerged almost 30 million worth of work is currently underway in the city.

The Capital is in the unique position of being able to hire contractors to carry out urgent work and then recover the cost from residents or businesses. The statutory notices are often issued when repairs need to be carried out to tenement properties where several owners are involved.

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All other authorities have to carry out such repair work from their own budgets so while Edinburgh has 800 contracts ongoing worth 28 million, the rest of Scotland only has 1.3 million.

While the council said the special legislation is designed to "save the built environment of the city", Labour councillor Ewan Aitken said there were now too many cases causing "severe difficulties for staff and extreme distress for residents".

He said: "I have six cases in my ward where there has been a huge variation between estimates and actual cost, and in each case residents feel they have no say on how their money is being spent.

"In one case a few thousand pounds rose to over 250,000.

"Statutory notices are a tool to help maintain the built environment of our historic city in good condition but work loads across the city are causing huge problems for staff.

"This means that communication breaks down, residents feel ignored whilst costs go up and no one ends up happy with the outcome."

Councillor Aitken added: "I don't blame the staff.

"They have an impossible job without the resources to do the task they have been given. A fundamental review is needed."

Councillor Aitken is set to forward a motion calling on the council to recognise the heavy burden of the statutory notice policy, and conduct a full review of the process.

The Labour councillor's call was echoed by the SNP's Stefan Tymkewycz, who has also questioned the existing process.

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He said he received many complaints from Edinburgh residents regarding work carried out by the council's building conservation department through statutory notices.

A recent case came to light when the councillor was overseeing work being carried out on a community centre and when he questioned an item of work on the schedule costing 1,368, he said it was removed from the schedule because it was "a mistake".

Councillor Tymkewycz said: "Through my own limited experience of the building trade I understood the technical jargon quoted on the schedule of works and spotted this item on the schedule and questioned it.

"I am left wondering if this and other items of work on this specific job were not challenged if these costs running into thousands of pounds would have been included in the final bill and how widespread are these 'mistakes' made?"

Cllr Tymkewycz also said that some of the complaints he receives refer to work that appears over priced and will be seeking a review of the tendering process to ensure that residents are receiving value for money.

A council spokeswoman said: "We are the only Council in the UK which has special powers to recover costs and we use Statutory Notices to proactively save the built environment of the city."

'We're paying for a Rolls Royce service'

WHEN Emma Jane Condon noticed a leak in the ceiling of her Queen's Park Avenue tenement, the neighbours couldn't agree on a price and the council took out a statutory repair notice.

Ms Condon, 41, said: "The council's tender to fix the roof was around 6,000, double our original estimate, and of course once they got going they started to notice all sorts of problems that needed fixing.

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"They told us that the rendering also needed repaired, but without consulting residents their contractors went out and bought a quarter of a million pounds worth of sandstone.

"The cost to each tenant has now shot up to 18,000. We're being asked to pay for a Rolls Royce service."

The council said it could not comment on individual cases.