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Architect to lead inquiry into Edinburgh school building failures

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Procurement expert John Cole will head an independent investigation on behalf of Edinburgh City Council this autumn 

Architect professor John Cole has been appointed to lead Edinburgh council’s inquiry into the PFI schools fiasco.

Cole, a private healthcare infrastructure adviser, was previously in charge of policy development and standards for health construction projects at the Northern Ireland Executive.

He has been given a remit to investigate why 17 schools and two other buildings were forced to close earlier this year, including the contractual arrangements between the council and its private finance initiative partner, Edinburgh Schools Partnership.

The schools were shut for checks and repairs following surveys carried out as a result of the collapse of an external wall at Oxgangs Primary (pictured) in January.

Council chief executive Andrew Kerr said: ‘The clear and thorough terms of reference set out exactly what we are aiming to achieve through this inquiry.

‘We want to find out what went wrong with these schools and are determined to see what lessons can be learned, not just here in Edinburgh but across Scotland and the UK.’

Cole’s inquiry, which is expected to begin in autumn, once the affected schools are all reopened, will report on the rationale for the council entering into the contract and how the financing arrangements could have affected the construction process.

It will also look at the role of the council in quality checks at the time the buildings were completed, and will consider the management of the buildings and contract since it was signed in 2001.

Former RIBA councillor Cole is an honorary professor at the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering, Queen’s University Belfast, where he completed his original BSc in architecture.

Cole retired in June 2013 from the role of deputy secretary and chief estates officer in Northern Ireland’s Department of Health.

Between 2008 and 2013, he was chief executive of the Health Estates Agency.

In 2013, he was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for his contribution to the development of health infrastructure.

Last week, Edinburgh council announced that four primary schools will reopen today, ahead of schedule. Another school will reopen next Monday, also ahead of schedule.

Pupils at three other schools have already returned to their classrooms, with the remainder expected to reopen at the end of the summer break.

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