Helen Martin: We were all losers in council repair scheme

WE will probably never know the true extent of the costs wrongly borne by city residents thanks to the scandalous workings of the old statutory repair scheme.

Monday, 25th July 2016, 12:30 pm
Updated Monday, 25th July 2016, 1:37 pm
Bruce Thompson, Comely Bank after years of wrangling, council have finally backed down and will only bill Mr. thompson for the original amount of £6K - not the £87K that they wanted from him. Picture; Ian Georgeson

In Comely Bank, a seven-year legal wrangle saw flat owner Bruce Thompson ‘thrash’ the council, while others who paid up too soon faced a reduced, but still erroneous bill and are so far out of pocket by £4000 each.

I have my own story to tell of when I lived in a tenement and our block’s saga also began with a roof leak. The owner most affected had a record of not paying their share of communal costs so we were forced to take the statutory route.

It soon emerged that their flat, which they had inherited – the top conversion of what was once a double-upper – didn’t appear on council records. Planning permission had been granted over a decade previously after other owners had agreed to cede the roof space, but the builder didn’t stick to the plans. Water was directed on to the roof rather than off it and massive dormers were extended. As a result it never had a completion certificate, could only be bought and sold for cash and technically, didn’t exist.

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That helped explain why the new roof was going to cost three times as much. A good part of it involved 
properly rebuilding the flat that shouldn’t have been there in the first place and in which the other eight of us had no financial interest.

Needless to say we told the statutory repairs team we were bringing in our own surveyor and hiring a lawyer. Several court hearings followed between us and the owner of the rogue flat, at a substantial cost for legal fees, but there was over £100,000 at stake. And while these fees racked up, the council neglected to give us a crucial piece of information – they had scaled back the work to a third of their original quote.

At the end of the day we won in forcing them to do only the work that had to be done, leaving the owner of the dodgy flat to fund their own rebuilding. But we lost because most of the money we would have saved was gobbled up in unnecessary legal costs.

Was it a lapse in communication? Was it a human error? Or was it corrupt vindictiveness because we had ruined the department’s plans for this big, over-inflated contract?

That was around 20 years ago, all water under the bridge now. We didn’t have bottomless pockets to pursue it and just had to take the financial hit. But it shows for how long the statutory repairs scheme was a law unto itself.

I have no doubt all these shenanigans were kept within the department because it appears no-one at a higher level was scrutinising the contracts. When I contacted the chief executive to ask why the top flat didn’t officially exist yet was billed for council tax he said the two offices didn’t share information.

How many other, similar stories are out there and undocumented? The saddest outcome is that such dishonesty, inefficiency and lack of control led to the closure of the repairs scheme altogether, now leaving important communal works undone because neighbours can’t reach agreement.

It’s the parents who deserve telling-off

THE row over a cafe owner in Suffolk, whose policy is to tell off noisy, disruptive kids if the parents don’t do so within five minutes, is one of those discussions that can divide generations, families or even best friends. Some parents seem to think children have a perfect right to be noisy anywhere and everyone else should be super-tolerant.

But it’s not about kids v adults. Good parenting involves teaching children what’s expected of them, especially in adult environments like supermarkets, restaurants and aeroplanes, not indulging them and defending them when they misbehave . . . what will they learn from that?

If a child persists in causing a nuisance, their parents should remove them. Otherwise it’s the parents who deserve a telling-off, not the kids.