Council staff investigated over ‘dirty tricks’

Cameron House has been left with a legacy of ongoing issues, such as leaking gutters and front doors which were built too low. Picture: Toby Williams
Cameron House has been left with a legacy of ongoing issues, such as leaking gutters and front doors which were built too low. Picture: Toby Williams
  • Wasting more than £146,000 of public money
  • Doctored e-mails
  • Missing documents
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City officials are being investigated over a six-year wrangle over the construction of Cameron House Community Centre, in Prestonfield, which has been plagued by “an appalling catalogue of building defects” since its completion in 2009.

The centre – which originally opened in 1931 – was one of four venues chosen to be rebuilt by the council between 2004 and 2007.

However, more than £146,000 of public money has been wasted on the centre, which has been left with a legacy of ongoing problems, such as leaking gutters and front doors which were built too low.

An independent review into the project by consultants Turner and Townsend, which was discussed at the council’s governance, risk and best-value committee last month, discovered disturbing failures of communication between officials and the council-run centre, as well as a lack of documentation for the project.

Moira O’Neill, chairperson of the Cameron House management committee, told the meeting that she received doctored e-mails from officials to cover their tracks after she complained about being excluded from the development process.

She also claimed that a council surveyor visited the centre, pretending to be a member of the public, to assess the state of the sports hall when the centre complained there was flooding.

Ms O’Neill said: “It was subsequently established that an individual, in the guise of a member of the public, had turned up without an appointment and asked if he could see round Cameron House as he was interested in new-builds.

“It should be noted that he was not allowed in the sports hall as there were actually children there at the time.”

An official who attended a later meeting admitted there had been no independent report and the man had been a council surveyor.

Staff at Cameron House also reported finding nothing but a tarpaulin between the kitchen roof tiles and the outside elements, just two weeks after being presented with a certificate saying the building was complete. This has been strongly denied by contractors John Dennis Ltd.

The sports hall flooded twice, causing extensive damage to the wood, pipes and heating system as officials failed to act on concerns that water was gathering under the floor.

Council papers said the failure to install non-return valves – as was advised after the first flooding incident – had cost £146,000 which could have been prevented.

Ms O’Neill said: “How did the building receive a building occupancy certificate when within a fortnight it was discovered that there was a tarpaulin between the ceiling tiles in the kitchen and the outside elements? There was no roof. It has been an appalling catalogue of building defects. Why have the senior officials not been held to account for the mismanagement of the build?”

The officials’ names were read out by Councillor Cameron Rose, pictured left, during the meeting, but the sound has since been wiped off the video recording so viewers cannot hear the details.

Allegations made during the meeting revealed the Cameron House management committee believe they have been victimised due to an indirect association with a whistleblowing investigation, which was ongoing at the time.

The other community centres – Southhouse Burdiehouse, Royston Wardieburn and Nelson Hall – have not been plagued with the same issues.

City chiefs have enlisted the council’s monitoring officer to investigate the behaviour of the officials involved, and pledged to sort the current problems with the centre’s buildings and to improve communication procedures.

Peter Watton, acting head of corporate property at the council, said the completion certificate had been issued “prematurely” as a temporary measure until a number of issues were dealt with. He admitted it was “unacceptable” how long it had taken to repair some of these problems.

Mr Watton said: “I offer an unconditional apology to the management committee for the shambles in which this project was delivered. The culture and regime which was in place at that time is totally different to those in place today.”

The matter was raised by Cllr Rose, who called for a thorough investigation. He said: “I have been very concerned with the number of problems there have been in the design, construction and management of this much-used public facility.

“I felt that the council and the public needed to see that things have gone very wrong.”

The alleged behaviour of officials was “bringing the council into disrepute”, said Cllr Jim Orr, during the meeting last month.

He said: “I really am seeing a pattern of difficulty, bordering on obfuscation sometimes. It risks bringing the council into disrepute.”

Speaking after the meeting, he added: “It is imperative that we get to the bottom of the many mistakes made around the Cameron House construction project and ensure that they are never repeated.

“Edinburgh deserves the very best performance from its council. Every pound is precious these days.”

Council projects cannot be used to play out “personal vendettas”, warned Cllr Joanna Mowat.

She said: “The issue is how do you get a project that goes so out of control, and get some people who create a personal fiefdom. People can’t play out personal vendettas with council money and council projects.”

She added: “Moira O’Neill and her staff should be applauded for continuing on with all this in the background.”

A city council spokesperson said: “A new project management procedure has been in place since the issues surrounding Cameron House arose and this should ensure no other projects experience similar problems.”

Cameron House Community Centre declined to comment further when approached by the Evening News.