Gina Davidson: Lessons haven't been learnt from Glasgow

LOURDES Primary is a 51-mile drive from the school which started the current disaster engulfing Edinburgh City Council.

Thursday, 14th April 2016, 10:16 am
Updated Thursday, 14th April 2016, 10:24 am
Work continues at Oxgangs Primary School. Picture: Julie Bull

The Glasgow primary looks incredibly similar to its counterpart in Oxgangs – the same white rendered walls, beige brickwork and sloping corrugated roofs. Given that it was built by the same company – Miller Construction, a well-kent name in building in Edinburgh – it’s hardly surprising. Indeed, many of the “new-build” schools which have sprung up around Edinburgh in the last two decades look like they came straight out of a flat-pack school design handbook.

But there’s another connection between Lourdes in Cardonald and Oxgangs – and St Peter’s RC Primary and Gracemount High and Craigmount High and who knows how many more of the 17 schools currently closed, leaving thousands of pupils in limbo. Four years ago, Lourdes was closed temporarily, its children and teachers decanted to other schools, because serious structural defects had been discovered. The school was just eight years old.

Lourdes’ problems were, it’s understood, to have been the same as those at Oxgangs: the header ties – a simple piece of kit like a steel cable tie which bind the top of brick walls to a building’s main structural wall – were missing.

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This wasn’t realised either in Glasgow or Edinburgh until walls began collapsing, unable to take the strain when winter storms hit.

Glasgow City Council knew where the blame lay – with the builders. Miller Construction agreed and paid all costs for the work and the decanting of children elsewhere. The problem was resolved, and further checks on the three other Miller-built schools in the city showed there were, thankfully, no issues.

A similar situation should happen in Edinburgh. There’s no reason it shouldn’t. For as much as I may find this hard to write, that is the beauty of the public private partnership scheme through which all the Edinburgh schools were built.

There are few benefits in many people’s eyes to private finance initiatives when it comes to building public infrastructure. Indeed, there are many political arguments to be made against the whole idea that councils have to pay millions annually, over a period of around a quarter of a

century, to a private consortium from which it leases the schools.

But how these schools were funded has little to do with the current mess – no matter how many politicians say otherwise in the run-up to the election. Well, that’s unless it can be proved that the construction firm deliberately failed to use header ties in order to cut costs and save pennies. At £17.50 for 50 (on eBay if you’re interested) I find that highly unlikely.

And Lourdes Primary, for instance, wasn’t even funded through PPP. It was a land swap deal as a supermarket wanted to build on the school’s original site. Once built, the school was handed over to Glasgow council.

However, an investigation into how these defects occurred is vital if the public is to continue to have confidence in the construction of public buildings through private consortia.

So far, Edinburgh council has rightly been concentrating on how to get all the pupils affected back to school. The teenagers with exams approaching have been the priority and it appears that they at least will be back in a classroom this week. But goodness knows how working parents are coping with finding, and paying for, sudden extra childcare.

Once that is resolved, however, an investigation must be carried out – and must be made public.

Why, for instance, when the Lourdes faults were found were Miller schools in Edinburgh not investigated? A borescope is a tool, like an endoscope, which is easily used on buildings to get beyond brickwork and see if header ties are present. I’d think the building control department would have had a few available.

Why also was it the case that council building control staff did not have to be on site when these schools were being built? That, at least, is my assumption as it was the case in Glasgow. Through west, it was Miller Construction and its contracted engineers who signed the Certificate of Completion certifying that all works had been completed in accordance with the drawings, the building warrant and the relevant building regulations at the time.

I suppose that when you’re in a partnership there has to be a level of trust – misplaced as it might, in hindsight, be proved. Though interestingly that’s not the case on current builds, as a council clerk of works was on site at Gillespie’s and currently is at the Boroughmuir build.

And while I can’t believe it was to save a few pence that these ties were not used, we need to know exactly why they are missing – and whether or not that is criminally negligent? It’s just luck that no-one has been injured.

However, the one silver lining in this sorry saga is that because of the PPP scheme, all of the costs of putting this right lie with the construction consortium and not the council.

Mark’s case is a tragic reminder of CJD horror

THERE was a time when “mad cow disease” was never far from the headlines. In Edinburgh, the CJD research unit at the Western General was almost under siege from reporters.

But it’s a disease which stopped making headlines when the scare about a mass public contraction of CJD through infected beef proved groundless.

Which is why it was so shocking to read of the death of 37-year-old horse trainer Mark Douglas, pictured, from the degenerative condition.

A terrible tragedy for his family and friends, and an awful reminder that there’s still no cure for the devastating brain disorder.

Whistleblower case needs to be heard soon

THE schools crisis reminded me of another property problem not yet resolved by the council. Six years since he was suspended and four years since he was sacked, the property repairs department whistleblower has still not had his day at an industrial tribunal.

The five-year criminal investigation which saw four people jailed for corruption was the major delay, but now apparently the council’s advocate is not available for the dates the tribunal was due to start this year.

This man says he was unfairly dismissed. The council, if it’s convinced of its case, should not delay due process any longer.