School closures: Construction fault ‘could have killed kids’

'What happened at Oxgangs could have killed a substantial number of kids' Picture: Toby Williams

'What happened at Oxgangs could have killed a substantial number of kids' Picture: Toby Williams

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ONE of the faults that led to the closure of several city schools was the discovery of vital safety fittings that weren’t fit for purpose, it has emerged.

Wall ties – metal fittings that secure a building’s inner and outer walls – were too short for the wider-than-expected wall cavities in some of the schools.

Somebody has put the wall ties in and left it like that. If they were aware of what they were doing, that by any definition is hugely irresponsible and callous.

Donald Anderson

But after being installed they were then certified and signed off by contractors.

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Former city leader Donald Anderson, who was in charge when the council entered into a controversial Public Private Partnership agreement (PPP1) to build the schools, insisted the blame lay firmly at the builders’ feet.

He said he hoped for a parliamentary inquiry into the scandal – but argued the private finance initiative under which the buildings were constructed had nothing to do with their faults.

He said: “What happened at Oxgangs could have killed a substantial number of kids. Parents have a right to be angry. I’m angry. Somebody has put the wall ties in and left it like that. If they were aware of what they were doing, that by any definition is hugely irresponsible and callous.”

After part of a wall blew down at Oxgangs Primary earlier this year, contractors found the gap between the school’s inner and outer walls was too wide – meaning the metal wall ties that hold the two together were insufficiently embedded into either side.

Less than a week later, St Peter’s, Firrhill High and Braidburn Special School were also closed due to the same fault.

But as contractors carried out emergency repairs on the buildings, they discovered yet another issue – the walls also had missing header ties, fittings placed at the top of a wall to secure it to the wider structure.

All 17 PPP1 schools, built under a PFI consortium called the Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP) just over a decade ago, were immediately closed. Surveys are ongoing, and it is not yet clear whether both issues affect all 17.

Mr Anderson, who led the city council from 1999 to 2006, said: “The council has never built a school, ever. It’s always private companies that build the schools. The only difference with PFI is the company looks after them afterwards.

“What happened at Oxgangs was not that wall ties were not put in – but the wall cavities were too big. It’s a clear fault with construction. It does beg some big questions. It comes down to people taking responsibility for the work they did.”

The council previously revealed that the schools were signed off by the contractor and not the local authority.

But a spokesman added: “The council did carry out reasonable inspections to ensure that the buildings appeared to satisfy the terms of the Building Warrant. However, the regulatory system acknowledges that local authorities cannot reasonably monitor each and every aspect of all construction work being carried out. As such, reliance was placed upon suitably qualified individuals and the council would not have been responsible for the quality of work done or for supervising builders.”

Miller Construction, which built Oxgangs, has since been bought over by Galliford Try. When asked who signed off the school’s construction, Galliford Try said it had “no further comments at this time”.

A spokesman for ESP said an “independent certifier” was appointed to sign off the school buildings and provide an “Availability Certificate” for each school – marking the final step in the sign-off process.

He added: “This approval relied upon the assurance of the building contractors that the schools had been constructed, extended or refurbished in accordance with the relevant building standards regulations as set out in the warrant application.”

alistair.grant@jpress.co.uk