Architects' body issues warning on all PFI public buildings in the wake of Edinburgh schools report

Written by Tom Freeman on 14 February 2017 in News

Failure of public bodies to respond to the Edinburgh PFI schools report could 'risk lives', the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland warns

Edinburgh PPP schools closure - credit Kay Williams

Public bodies in Scotland and across the UK need to urgently review the quality of their commissioned buildings or "risk lives", in the wake of the independent report into Edinburgh PFI schools, the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) has warned.

Last week a report into the structural failures in 17 Edinburgh schools built under the city’s first private finance initiative (PFI) said the council, construction company and private owners are lucky no children were hurt or killed.

The private finance contracts “did increase the risk of poor quality design and construction,” the review lead by Professor John Cole said.


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Responding to the report, RIAS has warned all public bodies to read the report carefully and urgently inspect the build quality of their capital assets built over the last 20 years.

"This will require significant expertise at substantial cost - however not to act may cost lives," RIAS secretary Neil Baxter said.

The warning suggests a lack of scrutiny over building techniques could have occurred in any building financed using private consortia, including PFI, PPP and those using the more modern Non-Profit Distirbution (NPD) or Hub models.

RIAS president Willie Watt said: "An early process of inspection by appropriately qualified experts should proceed as urgently as the various public commissioning authorities, local, health and governmental, can muster the skilled individuals who can do this work.

"The Royal Incorporation’s own submission to the Inquiry agreed strongly that without diligent and careful checking at every stage of the building process problems are almost inevitable. In this instance it was fortunate that nobody was injured, or killed.”

The Scottish Government has said it has written to councils about the issue.

In its submission to the inquiry, RIAS said private finance schemes had meant designers and construction professionals are "no longer in executive control of the process", while the needs of financial funders are met first.

Architects and designers are frequently not consulted on site, it added.

Of the Edinburgh schools public private partnership, the submission said: "It need hardly be emphasised that excessive focus on cost alone risks jeopardising quality. The costs of remedying defects, both practical and legal, can rapidly eclipse a perceived advantage in ‘value for money’ at the outset."

In a statement Local Government and Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: "I have been clear with local authorities that any instance of non-compliance is completely unacceptable. As I consider this report in full, I will be looking at the system with which we hold building owners, developers and compliance authorities to account during construction. 

"I am determined that we do all we can at both local and national level to ensure the building standards regime is as strong as possible and crucially that it is complied with to ensure the safety of our public buildings.” 

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