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Highland Council criticised for failing to check homes for risky concrete

By Ally Tibbitt

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Highland Council has carried out no physical checks of housing stock for RAAC.
Highland Council has carried out no physical checks of housing stock for RAAC.

Highland Council has been criticised by tenants for failing to physically check any homes to find out if they have a potentially dangerous type of concrete in them.

Concerns have grown over the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in buildings after it was found that it could fail suddenly. The material was used mostly in flat roofing, but also in floors and walls, between the 1950s and 1990s.

The unreliable concrete has already been found in Highland Council-owned schools, with officials estimating that the bill to make those buildings safe could be more than half a million pounds.

Current Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance warns that RAAC is “less durable than traditional concrete,” and is “liable to collapse.” It urges property owners to establish whether their “buildings contain RAAC and then take steps to manage and control risk.”

Council officials said in a freedom of information request that they had not identified any homes among the 14,800 that they rent out to contain RAAC, having undertaken a desktop survey of the properties.

But they added: "No council domestic properties have been inspected or are scheduled to be inspected for the presence of RAAC. There are no indications yet that there is a requirement to inspect our properties specifically for the presence of RAAC."

Other Highland social landlords have confirmed they already have plans to conduct physical checks of their properties to rule out the presence of RAAC, even though initial assessments suggest the chances of finding any of the risky material is low.

Elsewhere, RAAC has been found in some Essex social housing. The Scottish Housing Regulator said that “several landlords” had identified the presence of the risky building material in homes they provide, but did not name them.

Aditi Jehangir, secretary of national tenants' campaign group Living Rent said: "It is beyond belief that the Highland Council have said that none of their properties contain RAAC when they haven’t conducted a single inspection.

“Across the UK, we have seen schools, hospitals, universities and airports affected by this issue and yet by refusing to ensure that their residents are safe and secure in their homes, Highland Council are failing their most basic duty of care.

“We all deserve to feel secure in the knowledge that our homes won’t fall down. All council and social housing tenants across Scotland need assurances that their landlords will check their properties for RAAC and do all they can to ensure that tenants are safe in their homes."

Highlands and Islands MSP Ariane Burgess said that the UK government should have provided additional funding to help local authorities manage the costs of surveying and making their property safe. Highland Council owns nearly 15,000 domestic properties, roughly three quarters of all affordable homes available for rent in the area.

“The guidance from HSE is very clear about the need for councils to identify RAAC in their buildings and develop a management plan.

“Thirteen years of Tory austerity and spiralling construction costs has left local Councils struggling to fund the significant investment needed to improve buildings across the public sector. I have called for the UK Treasury to help deal with the consequences of RAAC in public buildings, but they chose not to allocate extra capital to this in the Autumn statement,” she said.

A spokesperson for Highland Council said that they were awaiting further guidance from the Scottish Housing Regulator before making a decision on whether they would conduct any further home surveys for RAAC.

They said: “Desktop technical reviews of our current housing stock has been undertaken and no concerns identified. As requested, The Highland Council has submitted this information to the Scottish Housing Regulator and await a response.

“Repair and maintenance work has been carried out in 99 per cent of our housing stock over the years and no RAAC has ever been identified (although not specifically surveyed for this); there’s been absolutely no concerns identified to date in 2023.

“The Scottish Government technical guidance as to any requirements of social landlords has not yet been issued to us.”

What Highland landlords said about RAAC

Highland Council - 14,858 Highland properties

"The council can confirm that no council domestic properties have been found to contain RAAC.

"No council domestic properties have been inspected or are scheduled to be inspected for the presence of RAAC. We are awaiting further technical advice on the matter but there are no indications yet that there is a requirement to inspect our properties specifically for the presence of RAAC."

Albyn Housing - 3620 Highland properties

"Albyn Group holds comprehensive information and stock condition data that provides us with assurance that we do not have any properties that contain this material.

"Albyn Group is already in the process of undertaking an exercise to have an external accredited company conduct a survey to the pre 2001 stock already identified."

Cairn Housing - 1663 Highland properties

"We do not believe any of our housing stock contains any RAAC based on our records. Although we have not carried out a specific RAAC survey, it is not known to be used in any of our properties. We are in the process of commissioning a new stock condition survey and will look for this to be identified as part of that survey process.

“Further queries with our Stock Condition Survey information is to be confirmed with the Consultant Surveyors who undertook our last Stock Condition Survey in 2015. A specific query regarding RAAC is to be included within the next SCS which will be undertaken in 2024 to all stock up until 2029."

Caledonia Housing: - 171 Highland properties

"A full survey was not required as a desk top exercise identified only one housing development where there is the potential of RAAC existing. Our evidence is that there is no RAAC at that development, but we are carrying out a survey to fully rule RAAC out."

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