Edinburgh repairs: Councillors press ahead with plan that could see owners face ‘excruciatingly’ high bills
Councillors have agreed to press ahead with major repairs under a city regeneration scheme that could see owners giving their homes back to the council if they can’t pay ‘excruciating’ bills.
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Plans were green-lighted for a ‘ground breaking’ pilot to repair 181 mixed tenure blocks in Dumbryden, Murrayburn and Hailesland to bring buildings in a state of disrepair up to safe standards and drive up energy efficiency.
But homeowners in the area who bought their flat under ‘right to buy’ legislation have accused the council of pushing expensive repairs on them for the buildings they share with current council tenants.
Some told the Evening News they were being pressured into selling their home back to the council after getting estimates up to £40,000.
The council has denied the allegations, saying they have put an assistance scheme in place and have ‘engaged extensively’ with all owners and tenants.
Councillor Mandy Watt said: “There are some people who perhaps hadn’t thought about the long term investment required when they bought their homes and they may now be overwhelmed. But our preference is for people to be able to stay in their homes.”
Politicians have branded it a scandal that owners will be hit with unaffordable bills, claiming it’s as a result of decades of under-investment in housing in the area where income levels are 37 per cent below the city average.
It comes after the council admitted it cannot recoup £2.3m of debt owed by homeowners for statutory shared repairs, following mismanagement of the common repairs service.
Works will be carried out under the council’s wider Capital Programme over three years at an estimated to cost of £30 million, which will be shared between council, owner occupiers and private landlords.
The majority of the to 1400 homes are council tenants who will pay nothing towards the repairs, as the council say they recoup their share from rent.
But more than 400 private homes will be hit with demands to pay or could have to sell their home back to the council. Under an extended assistance scheme, owners can also repay costs monthly for up to ten years with 6 per cent interest.
Scope of the works includes major repairs to roof covering and roof line extension for external wall insulation, rainwater pipes and gutters replaced, external wall insulation, loft and underfloor insulation, decoration of common areas and a tidy up of external areas.
In many blocks the external wall render has fallen off and there have been emergency incidents over recent years of fallen masonry. The roof tiles have not been replaced since the properties were built in the 1960s.
Legislation allows the council to take forward this work where they have a majority agreement, and a vote is being taken in each block. Detailed information is being provided along with estimates before people take a vote, after surveys have been completed.
Work is expected to start at the end of the summer and costs will be billed once repairs are completed.
Susan Webber, councillor for Pentland Hills Ward and Conservative MSP for Lothians said: “It’s great to see this level of investment in the area. But for decades the area has suffered poor state of housing. Repairs are needed and that’s visible. But some of these bills will be excruciatingly high and even repayments over ten years will still have serious repercussions for families. It’s unfair that people are being hit with high bills as a result of the council not keeping their end of the bargain and regularly maintaining these properties. They need to look at how they have managed RTB and stop using it as an excuse for inadequate housing. I hope they will do all they can to reduce the anxiety people have about this and look at the more extreme cases where people who can’t afford repayments could be forced into debt or to go back to being council tenants.”
Councillor Kate Campbell, the Housing Homelessness and Fair Work Convener, said: “This is a hugely challenging project but one that needs to be done in order to improve the living conditions for all residents living in these properties – our tenants, owner occupiers and those who rent from private landlords - so they feel more safe, secure, warm and proud of the neighbourhood they live in.
“Serious investment needs to be made now with many of the blocks falling into serious states of disrepair and as a social landlord we have a responsibility to meet housing quality standards and energy efficiency standards.
“We will continue to work closely with other owners in the blocks to give professional guidance on what needs to be repaired due to wear and tear or that structurally needs to be replaced now to prevent any issues and more costly repairs arising in the future.
“And everyone will benefit. Once the works are complete homes will be better insulated which will mean warmer homes – helping all residents reduce their energy bills. We hope to instil collective pride within blocks with tenants and owners feeling safer and more secure with roof and wall rendering works carried out - extending the life, aesthetics and potential value of the properties and improving the quality of life for those that live there.
“We appreciate that it may be difficult for owners to meet their share of the costs and so we’re doing everything we possibly can to help including helping them to apply for Scottish Government grants through Home Energy Efficiency Programmes for Scotland (HEEPS) to help with the cost of the energy saving work that is planned, as well as extending debt repayment options for up to 10 years through a payment plan to be set up by the Council’s Debt Recovery team.”