School closures: Council surveyors to check repair work

Repair work continues at Gracemount High. Picture: Toby Williams
Repair work continues at Gracemount High. Picture: Toby Williams
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CITY chiefs will send in their own surveyors to check Edinburgh’s schools are safe to reopen – in a move that marks a significant departure from the previous system of builders approving their own work.

Council leaders confirmed they will have the final say on whether children can return to all 17 schools forced to shut earlier this month amid safety concerns.

Political figures said the decision highlighted the “breakdown in trust” in Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP), the private finance consortium which built and maintained the faulty schools.

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Officials previously admitted the original construction of the 17 facilities, built under a controversial public-private partnership formed in 2001, had been “self-certified”. This meant safety checks were signed off by the contractors themselves – without the involvement of the council. Experts said the system was “open to abuse”.

A council spokesman said: “We will appoint independent experts to give us the necessary reassurance that work carried out by the Edinburgh Schools Partnership and its contractors is of the required standard to ensure the safety of children.”

Problems began in January when a wall at Oxgangs Primary School partially collapsed during a storm.

Faults were later discovered with the school’s wall ties, and three other schools were quickly shut.

Inspections were carried out by ESP – without council oversight – and the consortium gave the go-ahead for the facilities to reopen after the Easter break. But fresh flaws were then unearthed during repairs and this decision was quickly reversed.

SEE ALSO: School closures consortium grilled by Council over repairs

The council will now employ its own independent experts to double-check ESP’s repairs – as well as forcing the consortium to give a public, written assurance to parents that the schools are safe.

Oxgangs councillor Jason Rust said any independent review would “ideally give parents much greater confidence and reassurance that the buildings are safe for their children to return”.

He said: “It means that it is not simply a case of Edinburgh Schools Partnership effectively marking its own work, but also having it independently professionally assessed.

“We have already had the situation with Oxgangs Primary being closed and reopened only to close again due to other faults not being picked up in prior inspections, which is of concern.

“Ultimately there has been a serious breakdown in trust and so this independent check is vital. I would hope that Edinburgh Schools Partnership will also pick up the council’s costs for these inspections.”

The ongoing scandal was set to be debated at today’s full council meeting, following “crunch talks” on Tuesday night between ESP and council chief executive Andrew Kerr.

Neither party would comment on how the talks had gone. City leaders have given ESP a deadline of Friday to report back with the results of its ongoing surveys.

Meanwhile, S1 and S2 pupils at Firrhill High, currently at Napier University’s Craiglockhart Campus, will return to their own school on Tuesday next week.

alistair.grant@jpress.co.uk