Inspectors find four new city schools with defects, MSPs hear

Towerbank Primary School in Portobello was deemed to have defects. Picture: Jon Savage
Towerbank Primary School in Portobello was deemed to have defects. Picture: Jon Savage
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DEFECTS have been found at four more Edinburgh schools in an inspection instigated after 17 schools were temporarily closed due to safety fears following a wall collapse.

The further flaws were highlighted to MSPs as Edinburgh City Council’s head of property and facilities management Peter Watton said the local authority “got it wrong”.

A collapsed wall at Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh sparked further investigations into the quality of the city's schools. Picture: PA

A collapsed wall at Oxgangs Primary School in Edinburgh sparked further investigations into the quality of the city's schools. Picture: PA

MSPs also heard pressure on contractors meant corners appeared to have been deliberately cut in schools built through public-private partnership (PPP) schemes.

On 12 June, the Evening News reported that urgent work was to be carried out at three city primary schools: Towerbank, Cramond and Currie, as well as Valley Park Community Centre in Gracemount.

Edinburgh City Council said the defects are being fixed in the summer while those at Queensferry High School have already been dealt with.

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They were discovered through the local authority’s city-wide building investigation sparked after around nine tons of masonry collapsed at Oxgangs Primary School in January 2016.

Initial investigations in schools built as part of the same PPP scheme found ties needed to connect the walls to steel beams had not been used in some cases, leaving them unstable in heavy winds.

The city council temporarily shut 17 schools after operator Edinburgh Schools Partnership said it was unable to provide safety assurances for the properties.

An expert report into the problems found it was down to timing and luck that no deaths or injuries occurred in the Oxgangs collapse as children could easily have been standing in or passing through the area.

Questioned on the PPP deal at Holyrood’s Education Committee, Mr Watton said: “I’m absolutely 100% prepared to admit that, at that time, the council got it wrong.”

Committee convener James Dornan said: “That’s not getting it wrong, that’s fundamentally missing the whole point of what you were there to do.

“That’s not making a mistake, that’s making an absolutely huge error of incredible proportions.”

The further five buildings discovered to have problems were built outwith PPP schemes and were found through the council’s estate-wide structural review.

Mr Watton said: “We’re carrying out intrusive surveys, as a result of that we’ve identified five properties that have similar issues, not identical, it’s not the same extent.

“It’s mostly, for example, in a (wall) panel there should be, let’s say, 100 wall ties and there’s only 80, but we’ve adopted a very risk-averse approach, as I’m sure you could appreciate, and we are remediating in those circumstances.”

Questioned if PPP contractors had cut corners deliberately, Mr Whatton’s counterpart at Aberdeenshire Council, Allan Whyte, said: “It would appear so, yes.”

He said: “There was probably far too much work on, there was harsh penalties for failing to complete on time and, because of that, that impacted on the quality.”

He said it was “horrendous” but now the industry has matured and is no longer in the same situation.