Comment: Repairs scheme on right track for owners

Pic: Callum Bennetts
Pic: Callum Bennetts
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Since April last year, the Council has been operating its new Shared Repairs Service, which replaced the old Property Conservation Service. The failures of the old service were many and serious and it was right to close it and to deal with the legacy issues in a thorough and effective manner.

Looking forward, we are determined to respond to the clear findings of our consultation ahead of the new service in which residents expressed a clear and strong view that the council should retain an effective means of assisting owners in carrying out shared repairs.

The guiding principle of the new service is, I believe rightly, that the primary responsibility for maintenance of properties lies with the owners themselves. The council nevertheless does recognise that owners in tenemental property in Edinburgh can face particular problems in securing co-operation of all owners in their stair. Unlike Glasgow, for instance, we do not have a strong tradition of factoring to assist in property maintenance and I think it is therefore right that the council takes a role in assisting owners as far as we can.

There are three elements to the new service. First, the council offers advice and assistance to owners, helping them to work with their neighbours towards an agreed and sufficient repair. We are in the process of introducing a number of enhancements to this element, such as the facilitation of meetings and co-operation between owners, a Trusted Trader scheme and a call-out charge.

Second, the council has a 24-hour emergency service to deal with serious health and safety issues that may arise. This is perhaps the most fundamental element in the service and is connected to the council’s broader role in addressing incidents of fire and flooding, for example.

The third element, which was agreed by the council at its meeting last Thursday, is to provide an enforcement service. The main ­objective of this is to provide a support framework for owners who have exhausted all other reasonable means of agreeing and undertaking a repair.

This service will need to take account of affordability and to balance that against the effectiveness of a ­proposed solution when deciding what work is necessary.

In some cases where the council deems a repair necessary, but the co-operation of all owners in a stair is lacking, the council may finance any missing share of the cost but pursue the non-paying owners for their share.

We are also looking at the legislation in this area to see if there is scope for improvement in the legal framework around shared repairs. We are considering, for example, whether owners should be under a legal ­obligation to produce an annual maintenance plan and to hold a common bank account to which owners should contribute their share of a repair cost and perhaps carrying a minimum ­balance for minor works, such as clearing blocked guttering.

I firmly believe that this is the right direction of travel for the council but fully appreciate that the new service will need close and effective management and regular scrutiny by elected members and that is what we will provide.

Councillor Alasdair Rankin is finance and resources convener at Edinburgh City Council