AN architect with 25 years’ experience in conservation work took on the council after being served with a statutory repair notice – and cut the costs of the work from £300,000 to just £40,000.
Lorn Macneal discovered that builders sent to estimate essential repairs to the New Town tenement where he had a flat were pricing for expensive and unnecessary repairs.
At a meeting with council officials, he challenged the items one by one and the council, unusually, agreed to hand back responsibility for the repairs to the owners, who were then able to slash the bill.
Mr Macneal, 55, whose practice is in St Vincent Street, said he believed the statutory notice system – which allows the council to carry out essential repairs to private property and recoup the costs – was an important safeguard for Edinburgh’s historic buildings and had worked well in the past.
But he said the council now needed to restore confidence in the system by ensuring only essential works were ordered.
He and his neighbours in a tenement at the corner of Nelson Street and Northumberland Street were served with a statutory notice in January last year after the owner of one of the flats had a leak in a roof light.
Mr Macneal said: “The council’s responsibility is to carry out repairs at minimum cost to ensure the building is watertight and meets health and safety requirements. Beyond that, they have no remit other than essential repairs.”
He said he knew the building was sound. “When I bought my property three years ago, the survey did not throw up anything untoward. It had been well maintained by the owners for many years.”
He was shocked when he discovered the extent of the works which were being planned.
“By sheer chance I was talking to the builder who was tendering the repairs for the building and when I asked what he reckoned the cost would be he said £250,000 to £300,000.”
He asked for a meeting with council officials and discovered the plans included replacing two chimneys, pointing all the walls and stripping and reslating the whole roof. “When I met them on the roof they were almost apologetic. I think they were good people who realised and said ‘Hang on, we don’t need to do all that’.
“We went right through the whole building and they said they could probably bring the work down from £300,000 to half of that. I said I was still not prepared to pay that. I advised the council I considered what they were doing was totally unnecessary and requested they revoke the statutory notice.”
The works were still being priced and contracts had not yet been signed so the council agreed to hand responsibility for the repairs back to the owners, subject to them paying the £2000 which the council said it had already spent setting up the contracts.
Mr Macneal said: “Because I was an architect involved in conservation I think they realised there might be some issues. We took it back, went to a quantity surveyor and got the repairs done for £40,000 plus VAT, which means around £2000 per owner.”
The council’s statutory repairs department is currently under investigation by Lothian and Borders Police fraud unit and auditor Deloitte. Around 18 staff have been suspended.
A council spokesman said: “The aim of the statutory notice process is to safeguard the physical condition of buildings in the city. As this is the owners’ responsibility we are delighted if they take this on themselves.”
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