Planning officer drawn into city statutory repairs probe

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ANOTHER council department has been drawn into the property repairs scandal following the suspension of a planning officer.

The latest suspension, which brings the total number of employees under investigation to at least 15, is thought to involve a member of staff from the building control arm of the planning department. It is understood to be the first suspension outside the property conservation department, which is directly responsible for issuing the controversial statutory repairs notices.

To date, senior management and senior staff have been suspended, some dating as far back as October.

Police and auditors Deloitte are investigating the statutory repairs notice system, amid allegations of fraud. It has also been alleged that key documents are yet to be found.

The system allowed staff to order the repair of buildings and recoup the costs from owners. Concerns were raised, however, about spiralling costs.

In some instances, it has been alleged that unnecessary works were carried out, substandard building materials were used and residents were billed for fictional repairs.

There have also been accusations of under-bidding by contractors to win a job and contractors that were not on an approved council list being given jobs. It is thought problems could date back to 2005.

One senior source told the Evening News: “I thought it had been kept in-house [the property conservation department], but if people in other departments are involved it suggests this is even more serious.”

Another said: “The planning department is meant to be completely separate and objective.”

In May, seven members of the property conservation department were suspended, following two in April and five in March.

The shortage of staff is believed to have left the building department concentrating on emergency calls and ongoing repairs only.

Labour councillor Ewan Aitken said: “It’s more and more concerning that so many suspensions are taking place and it’s time for answers.”

SNP councillor Stefan Tymkewycz, who first raised his concerns more than a year ago, said: “This news is extremely serious.

“I have several homeowners and flat owners contacting me on a weekly basis with their concerns.”

Mark Turley, director of services for communities, said: “The council has commissioned an independent investigation. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

vraimes@edinburghnews.com