Tin helmet time? Lib Dems call for plan to notify property owners about concrete risks

Dumbarton’s dystopian 1960s-built town centre has been described as a “a concrete monstrosity” – but is it safe? Spin doctors stay silent as crisis unfolds.

By Bill Heaney

West Dunbartonshire Council is refusing to answer questions as to whether Dumbarton Town Centre – the largest concrete structure in the region – was built using the dangerous reinforced concrete (RAAC).

Following the alarming news that schools, hospitals and sundry public buildings do contain the unsafe concrete, the Labour-led council is sticking to its policy of not speaking to The Democrat.

Which means our journalists cannot ask for details of local structures which have been checked for safety in light of this weekend’s revelations that a large number of buildings are considered dangerous and may have to be closed to the public, including school pupils and hospital patients.

Which is a scandal given that the press and public have a right to know.

However, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton, pictured right, has today called on the Scottish Government to set out an immediate plan for letting private property owners, both residential and commercial, know about the risks posed by dangerous reinforced concrete (RAAC) and what action needs to be taken.

In response to a series of parliamentary questions from Mr Cole-Hamilton lodged in early July about whether the government would notify private property owners of the risks posed by RAAC, the Scottish government’s housing minister Paul McLennan declared that “Building safety is a matter for the building owner”, while minister Patrick Harvie said that “Maintaining the safety of buildings is the responsibility of building owners, and this includes responsibility for any assessment of the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete in private sector buildings”.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “It’s not good enough for the Scottish Government to simply say that it’s a matter for business owners to ensure their premises are safe.

“If concrete beams in a block of flats collapse the idea the government could simply go that’s not our problem’ is ridiculous.

“This concrete was in use for decades. We need an immediate government plan for notifying property owners about what to look out for and clear standards set for what a dangerous property looks like and what action needs to be taken.”

The Labour administration in West Dunbartonshire appears to be following the Secret Scotland policies relating to this and other important matters laid down by the SNP under former West Dunbartonshire council leader Jonathan McColl and former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The LibDems appear to be more vigilant and it was a media release from them and from the local government trade union UNISON that attracted nationwide attention on Friday.

It appears this concrete was used across the board by builders in order to save money and that it has been used going back to the 1960s.

A new communication from the LibDem leader  today (Sunday) contains details of Alex Cole-Hamilton’s parliamentary questions:

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (Scottish Liberal Democrats): To ask the Scottish Government whether it is aware of any reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete being present in (a) social housing and (b) private housing developments.

Paul McLennan (SNP former Housing Minister) : We do not hold any information on the presence of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete in current social or private housing developments. Building safety is a matter for the building owner, acting in accordance with the relevant legislation.

Alex Cole-Hamilton (Edinburgh Western) (Scottish Liberal Democrats): To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete in private sector buildings, including those that were initially built for the public sector, and how it will raise awareness of any problems related to its presence.

Dumbarton man Patrick Harvie, the Green Party/SNP Housing Minister, left, said: The focus of our activity remains engagement with public sector organisations to seek reassurance of both their awareness and any action identified on this issue.

“Maintaining the safety of buildings is the responsibility of building owners, and this includes responsibility for any assessment of the presence of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete in private sector buildings.”

Authoritative guidance on identification and assessment of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete is already published by organisations such as the Institution of Structural Engineers.

We continue to engage with the UK government and such organisations to understand and support broader action being taken to raise awareness of this risk topic across all sectors.

No immediate risk to safety where Raac crumbling concrete is found in Scotland, minister says

The concrete was used from the 1950s until the mid-1990s in buildings which the Council refuse to identify. They appear to have no list of those buildings which have been inspected and which have not.

Well-being economy secretary Neil Gray said investigations are under way to assess the scale of buildings in Scotland containing the collapse-risk concrete.

The Scottish Government has said the lightweight concrete is present in 35 schools in Scotland, with local authorities checking – they appear still not to have a list – which other buildings it was used on, including hospitals and social housing. It appears that the private sector, which could be similarly affected to the public sector, will have to look after its own properties and the safety of the staff working in them.

Speaking on BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show programme, he said: “At the moment, there is no immediate risk to people using these buildings and that is why we continue to support our local authority partners, NHS boards and others, that have Raac in their buildings to ensure that remains the case, and if there are issues to be resolved, that mitigations are taken to ensure people’s safety.”

First Minister Humza Yousaf said on Saturday that Scottish ministers have no plans to close affected schools “at this stage”, which is not at all re-assuring.

Local authorities will be expected to prioritise remedial work where the concrete is found in public buildings, including room or building closures and the use of temporary modular provision for school pupils.

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