Helen Martin: Edinburgh’s crumbling, so is it time to bring back statutory repairs?

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CRUMBLING city buildings, particularly roofs and masonry, are posing a threat to passers-by.

An obvious contribution to that is the age of Edinburgh buildings; not just the fancy, decorative stonework of impressive city centre establishments, but the not quite so fancy bricks, stones and mortar of our thousands of tenements dating from the 1800s.

Edinburgh tenements are not undergoing the necessary repairs and maintenance. Picture: Callum Bennetts

Edinburgh tenements are not undergoing the necessary repairs and maintenance. Picture: Callum Bennetts

Buildings of that age need crucial maintenance – but it doesn’t happen. And that’s because bribery claims, corruption, fraud and mismanagement in the city council’s statutory repair scheme led to it being suspended in 2011.

In 2017 it was eventually replaced by a “watered-down” and far less effective “shared repairs scheme”. Those six years of neglect followed by one year of an inadequate substitute have led to increased danger, more necessary repairs, and a desperate need to restore the original statutory scheme.

The council has consistently tried to avoid bringing it back. But basic common sense should have shown there was never going to be a working alternative.

Putting the onus on owners to identify structural problems in 100-200-year-old buildings, organise scaffolding and expert repairs, and produce the payment, might be a reasonable plan for aristocrats and their own historical mansions.

For tenement owners in one, two, three or four bedroomed flats, who share communal repairs with another eight, ten or 20 owners, none of whom are guaranteed to have any savings at all, and who may not even know who their neighbours or absent landlords are, is a ridiculous proposition.

The old system did the job. If flat owners had not agreed with everyone else in the stair to have a survey done, call in quotes from builders, select the best, lodge their financial share in a joint account and let the work progress, they had the option of calling on the council.

Under the statutory repairs scheme the council then took on all the preparation, told each owner how much it would cost them, had the work done and had the power and authority to enforce payment. If any owner couldn’t come up with the dosh, a clause was imposed on their property when it next came on the market so the council eventually received any money owed.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough financial supervision of that system or those in charge of it. Fishy deals between officials and contractors was just the tip of the ice-berg so with staff suspensions and investigations, the process was shut down.

Several Scottish cities have tenements. But Edinburgh has many from the 19th and early 20th century, those built on curving terraces and hills in a compact little city, many lining cobbled streets where buses and heavy vehicles rumble up and down. Loose tiles, masonry and subsidence are far from unusual.

So, are we leaving pedestrians at risk, letting our traditional and picturesque tenements rot, preparing for demolition and replacement with modern flats? Or has the time come to restore the statutory repairs scheme and recruit a new, principled, qualified and strongly supervised team who won’t become involved in fraud and corruption?

A taxing issue on the horizon for SNP

THE Scottish government went through a bit of a tough time when it raised taxation for middle to high earners. But most Scottish people accepted it was fair and reasonable to charge low earners less and high earners more than general UK rates.

A much bigger problem is coming up with the Greens’ proposal to rejig council tax by introducing a residential levy – a plan they are demanding in exchange for supporting the SNP budget.

According to the Greens’ Patrick Harvie (pictured), council tax is outdated and owners of high value homes are paying less than they should.

In Edinburgh, almost every home costs more than it would elsewhere in Scotland. And its value is largely irrelevant to income – unless it was bought in the last six months. Some prices could have doubled over the last decade.

Predictions are that the levy could rise by several thousands. I predict such a levy could drain electoral support for the SNP.

Why hike on icy Ben Nevis in the winter?

IT’S tragic that a 22-year-old student died falling 500 feet from Ben Nevis on New Year’s Day.

But it’s yet another sad and distressing example of how little many people in the south of England know about Scotland, including the fact that Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK within a climate probably never experienced.

Even a spokesman for Bristol University said: ”We can confirm that on January 1, one of our students died on a hiking trip to Ben Nevis in Scotland.”

Who doesn’t know Ben Nevis is in Scotland? Who could imagine “hiking” on the icy north face in winter? Her three pals were lucky to be air-lifted off in a miraculous but brief cloud gap by a rescue helicopter. They could all have died. These tragedies of ignorance must stop.

Meghan hits the bullseye

‘SHUNTING and hooting’ is a spoonerism for an aristocrat’s hunting and shooting upbringing. But how that has backfired on the modern, enlightened, young Royals praised for relating to “ordinary” people.

Wills, Harry and Kate shooting ducks has earned them a black mark. And that happening when animal-loving Meghan was absent has won her a gold star in public opinion.

The New Windsors has the potential for a TV soap – a mix of Downton Abbey, Dallas and Made In Chelsea.