Florance Kennedy: Driving home the need for repairs

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Organising repairs is daunting at best and impossible at worst.

I know, I am going through it all right now, along with the owners of the other 15 properties in our stair.

We have a fantastic group of owners who have all pulled together and we have still been buffeted by problems, including costs which have doubled to an estimated £200,000. On top of that we have to find £40,000 to cover VAT.

That is a big part of the problem. While Edinburgh’s statutory repairs system is suspended, the onus is on residents to organise their own repairs, but it’s not that easy.

To make matters worse, there is no incentive for owners to get repair work done in a timely fashion, rather than wait until things get so bad that the local authority has to step in.

We formed an association, arranged contractors, and so on, and feel thoroughly drained by the experience.

I bought the small flat in East Crosscauseway where the work is being carried out in 2005 for my daughter, then a student at university. It is very well-located and after she left university I kept the flat as part of my future pension. I rent it out easily, usually to students. I also make a bit of extra cash in August from Festival lets. I accept that there will be costs associated with keeping it, especially as it is B-listed with intricate carved stonework.

Our problems started in 2009 when part of the building became dangerous and had to be removed and replaced. We were warned at that time that further substantial work would be required in the not too distant future. I thought it was worth trying to get the owners together to form an association and carry out the work privately, and I was amazed at the positive reception to the idea. It took two years, and the first contractor dropped out, but the scaffolding finally went up in April this year and we held our AGM in May with £100,000 in the bank to cover the estimated cost, and a real sense of achievement.

Unfortunately, instead of celebrating, we were stunned to be told by our architect that the stone was in a much worse state than had been thought. We were shocked and angry, then resigned and determined in turn and after debate decided to continue the work.

The cost has now doubled to £200,000. Two owners own two properties and are having to find £30,000 each. The work is now in full swing, and it is exciting to see new stone sitting outside the window three floors up. But the VAT is a real burden, and I do feel that more needs to be done to give owners a reason to undertake repairs themselves. If one winter and previous poor repairs can double the damage to our property, what on earth is happening elsewhere in the city?

It is 12 years since Christine Foster was killed by falling masonry at Ryan’s Bar. It is time for some joined-up thinking to preserve the traditional housing stock of all of Scotland’s inner cities for generations to come.

At the moment, only councils are exempt from VAT on such repairs and they are overwhelmed by the size of the problem but housing associations, owners and factors get no encouragement to organise repairs themselves. I believe they too should be exempt from VAT.

If VAT concessions cannot be achieved from the Westminster Government, some other incentive is required to get owners acting. Perhaps the Scottish Government could provide grant aid or subsidy to match at least the VAT on mutual repairs, if necessary by using its tax powers to generate income for this particularly Scottish problem – English cities do not have the tenement landscape of Scotland. This would also help building contractors, currently struggling as work has dried up.

I have created a petition to try to raise awareness and gain support.

It gained more than a hundred signatures in its first week, many of them from people I don’t know, so the word is being spread, but it would be wonderful if the readers of the Evening News could really raise the profile by signing up and encouraging everybody they know to do the same.

Florance Kennedy is an Edinburgh property owner and campaigner

Rising to challenge of growing city

AS the Capital’s population began to expand rapidly in the 18th and 19th centuries – rising from 49,000 in 1751 to 136,000 in 1831 mainly due to migrants from rural areas – cramped tenements that lined the Royal Mile and Cowgate reached bursting point.

Architect James Craig’s masterplan of the New Town attracted more professional classes, and as the population growth spread south, more tenements were built in the 19th century, creating areas such as Marchmont and Bruntsfield.

The 2001 census said 55 per cent of the city’s population lived in tenements.

A British Geological Survey suggested that up to ten per cent of the city’s pre-1919 tenements might have been built with poor quality sandstone.

What you can do

Florance Kennedy’s petition urges the Scottish Government to provide incentives for mutual repairs on tenement properties and to lobby the UK Government to cut VAT “in order to encourage tenement property owners to undertake repairs and preserve the traditional housing stock of Scotland’s inner cities for generations to come”.

To register your support you can go to the mutual repairs incentive scheme website or text “392” and “Your Name” to 0753 7400 395.