Watch video shows loose stone across Edinburgh's rooftops as stonemasons renew call to preserve city's skyline

Stonemasons in the Capital have sent several videos showing loose stone features wobbling on rooftops to Edinburgh Evening News to reveal the ongoing risks surrounding some of the city’s picturesque buildings.

By Katharine Hay
Tuesday, 26th January 2021, 4:45 pm

Stewart Inkster, of Edinburgh Stonemasons Ltd, has been raising awareness about the fragile state of some of Edinburgh’s buildings over the last few years.

But the 36-year-old said he has seen “no improvement” on enforcing regular maintenance and restoration work on buildings, some of which he described as a risk to human life.

The stonemason, who has been working on Edinburgh’s roofs for 16 years, is calling on the Scottish Government to introduce an official programme to ensure the Capital’s buildings are reviewed and maintained on a regular basis.

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Stewart Inkster pictured and some of his and Daryl Hall's footage of repairs needed in Edinburgh picture: supplied

"Encouraging official, regular maintenance of these buildings is essential, and I fear it will not happen until someone is seriously injured or killed,” Mr Inkster said.

"People in the city really need to start looking up more and checking the state of their buildings because us stonemasons can’t keep an eye on all of them.

“I recently had to sort a balustrade that was wobbling on top of a roof in the New Town which could so easily have fallen and killed someone. These are the kinds of jobs we are dealing with on a regular basis.”

Edinburgh Evening News published an investigation into the state of the city’s roof tops in 2019 which revealed some sobering figures.

There were 179 reports of falling masonry to the city council in 2018 - equivalent to one almost every other day – and the number dramatically rose from just 33 in 2008 to nearly 1,000 cases by the time the investigation was published.

Mr Inkster, who sent in the video footage, said conditions are still no better today.

"Some of the cases referenced in the 2019 report have still be left untouched,” he said.

"I understand it’s expensive for these jobs to be done, but there needs to be a law to make sure these buildings are safe. We have to make sure safety is first.”

Since lockdown Mr Inkster said there has been a small increase in interest to fix rooftops, but not enough to tackle what he described as “the crumbling rooftops of Edinburgh.”

"People have had a bit more cash to spend while we’ve been in lockdown and are working from home so they can get work done, but when restrictions ease that interest will go again.

"One of the main issues is the lack of interest from people in caring for their buildings on the outside.”

Daryl Hall of Hallmark Roofing in Edinburgh echoed Mr Inkster’s concerns.

The stonemason, who has been working on rooftops for 12 years, said he is concerned about the preservation of some of the city’s historic buildings after seeing the state of disrepair that many of them are in.

"Lately I have been seeing two or three cases a week that if they were left a bit longer could have caused some serious damage or death,” said Mr Hall, 32.

The roofer, who has worked on St Columbus Church and many of Edinburgh’s New Town heritage buildings, said yearly maintenance programmes need to be enforced to prevent major damage to buildings and a potential risk to life.

"It’s not only important for keeping the city’s impressive skyline looking good, but also for the safety of residents,” he added.

"We need a proper system where buildings are checked regularly so that repairs aren’t left for months, or even years.

"If they are left too long, that’s when the serious damage is done and the cost goes up a fair bit."

In 2000, Christine Foster, 26, was killed when stonework fell on her outside Ryan’s Bar on Shandwick Place - with others suffering serious injuries since.

Concern over the crumbling state of tenements in Edinburgh and surrounding areas prompted Holyrood to set-up Cross-Party Working Group on Tenement Maintenance in 2018 which came up with three radical recommendations: building inspections every five years, compulsory owners’ associations to take responsibility and reserve funds to pay for work.

In response to Mr Insker and Mr Hall’s renewed calls for better maintenance and repairs legislation, the Scottish Government confirmed it made “a commitment” to implement the cross-party group’s recommendations when they were published.

Government response

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “While some disrepair to critical elements such as guttering, windows and roof structure is fairly common, this tends to be at a relatively low level in each property – affecting no more than 2.5 per cent of these areas on average.

“The Scottish Government is committed to tackling disrepair in housing, driving a culture in which good maintenance is given a higher priority, ensuring that tenement owners can work together to look after their homes, and making it easier for those who need help to meet the cost of the work.

“We’ve introduced legislation to support people struggling to pay for common works by enabling local authorities and registered social landlords to pay missing shares, and our equity loans pilot helps homeowners carry out essential repairs and energy efficiency improvements.

“We also want to make sure that standards are increased to improve the condition of all homes. Changes have already been made to the standards for social and private rented property, and in 2021 we will consult on a new quality standard for all housing.

“The Scottish Government has made a commitment, in response to the report of the Cross-Party Working Group on Tenement Maintenance, to take action to implement the group’s recommendations for legislation, and other action needed to tackle disrepair in tenements.”

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