'Someone is going to be killed' - Nearly 180 reports of falling masonry from Edinburgh's crumbling tenements in past year

A SPECIAL investigation by the Evening News today reveals the full frightening scale of the Capital’s crumbling tenements.

Thursday, 10th October 2019, 7:35 am
Stills from videos made by stonemasons working on dangerous Edinburgh buildings.

Shocking figures obtained from the city council show reports of falling masonry have risen more than five-fold in ten years.

One expert warned someone could be killed by falling debris as loose stonework teeters 50ft above some of the city’s busiest thoroughfares.

“There was a loose slate on a roof above Princes Street,” said stonemason Stewart Inkster, 35. “If that had slipped off and hit someone, they wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Stomemason Stewart Inkster at work

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“How many people walk down there a day? The people who own these places have got millions but it’s just out of sight, out of mind.”

Figures released under freedom of information laws show there were 179 reports of falling masonry to the city council last year - equivalent to one almost every other day.

The number has dramatically risen in the last decade, from just 33 in 2008, with nearly 1,000 cases in total since.

Of those, a staggering one in three (33 per cent) posed a risk to public health and safety needing work to make the building safe.

A section of stone window surround comes off a building in George Street

Mr Inkster granted access to his own dossier of dilapidation after being drafted in to inspect and fix buildings across the New and Old Towns.

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His video diary of despair over recent weeks includes:

* Wobbly stone baluster towering 50ft above the West End

* Loose chimney pot on Princes Street in view of the Castle

* Stone window surround weighing up to ten kilos breaking off in George Street

* Decorative stone ornament detached above the Royal Mile

"It just comes away in my hand.”

“There are a lot of dangerous buildings in Edinburgh,” added Mr Inkster, of Edinburgh Stonemason.

“It’s no use looking at them from the street with binoculars, you need to physically inspect them to make sure they’re safe.

“Sometimes when I take a look at a roof, I can’t believe how easy stuff moves - it just comes away in my hand.”

In 2000, Christine Foster, 26, was killed when stonework fell on her outside Ryan’s Bar on Hope Street - with others suffering serious injuries since.

Concern over the crumbling state of tenements in Edinburgh and further afield prompted Holyrood to set-up a cross-party working group to tackle the issue.

After a far-reaching probe lasting more than a year, it reported back with sobering findings in June of this year.

The group found that tenements account for 584,000 of properties in Scotland – equating to nearly a quarter (24 percent) of the country’s total housing stock.

Nearly a third (29 percent) of tenements were built over 100 years ago and more than two-thirds of these (68 percent) are classed as in “critical disrepair”.

The working group came up with three radical recommendations - building inspections every five years, compulsory owners’ associations to take responsibility and reserve funds to pay for work.

“I congratulate the Evening News for running this campaign"

Convenor Graham Simpson (Con) said: “Edinburgh city has the highest number of listed buildings in Scotland so in other words it’s probably got the oldest property stock.

“Therefore, while this issue doesn’t always relate to all buildings, it’s very pertinent to Edinburgh.

“I congratulate the Evening News for running this campaign. Our working group produced a series of recommendations which are sitting with the Scottish Government.

“They promised to give us a detailed response last month and that hasn’t arrived. I hope they’re not thinking of kicking this into the long grass because they feel it’s too difficult.

“It’s a really serious issue all over Scotland, not just Edinburgh, but Edinburgh had got particular problems.

Mr Simpson called for a “commitment” to take the working group’s recommendations forward but accepted nothing will now happen ahead of elections in 2021.

“All parties have got behind this report, including SNP members, but what we haven’t got yet is the Scottish Government to take this forward.

“It’s controversial because we’re asking people to pay for the upkeep of their properties which, of course, they should be doing but how you put that in legislation is difficult for politicians.”

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said he welcomed the working group’s report but had asked for further feedback.

He added: “The maintenance of common property is an important issue.

“Homeowners and landlords in tenements need to fully accept their shared responsibilities for the up keep of their property, ensuring everyone living in tenements can enjoy good quality, safe and sustainable homes.

“The Scottish Government held a debate on this issue in June and I welcomed the report of the Working Group on Maintenance of Tenement Property then.

“We have asked for further feedback from the group and will respond when received.”