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Architects on site could stop repeat of Edinburgh schools fiasco

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Reintroducing the role of design professionals on construction sites could help avoid a repetition of the building defects that closed 17 Edinburgh schools last year, according to Scotland’s architects’ professional body

Last week, a report into the school closures, headed by architect and construction expert John Cole, blamed poor-quality construction and a lack of supervision for problems under a public-private partnership arrangement with Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP).

In its submission to the investigation, the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) said procurement methods, including Design and Build contracts, needed to be scrutinised.

Its response, released this week, said: ‘The increasing tendency to reduce or indeed omit the design team’s role on site overlooks the substantial benefits accrued by dint of the design team being an ‘educator’ during on-site delivery.

‘While drawings and specifications convey a great deal of information the traditional role and value of the design team on site, their ongoing contribution to progress, technical, co-ordination and sub-contractor meetings should not be underestimated.’

The RIAS said that the transfer of responsibility for the procurement process from construction professionals, such as the architect, to project managers and contractors had been instituted with good intentions.

But it added: ‘Some consequences may not have been as anticipated … we believe that this inquiry is an opportunity to pause for thought and to consider the lessons which may be learned at a systemic level.’

The problem across the school portfolio came to light after 9 tonnes of masonry fell at Oxgangs Primary School during a storm in January 2016.

Wall ties were found to be missing at all 17 ESP schools, and contractors had to carry out remediation work, requiring the relocation of around 8,400 pupils.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Cole said: ‘My personal recommendation would be to have more independent scrutiny [on behalf of the client]. That might mean a clerk of works or resident architect.

‘If I was a client I would want my own independent scrutiny; not just to be reliant on the contractors’ [reports]’.

The RIAS said that it ‘would be naive’ to assume that similar issues may not affect other properties built between 2000 and 2005 under similar procurement regimes to the ESP schools.

RIAS president Willie Watt said: ‘When major inquiry reports are published there is a tendency for everyone to breathe a sigh of relief, mutter “well that’s that dealt with” and move on.

‘That should not be the case with this, extremely well researched and deeply concerning report. The message is simple and the responsibility of all commissioning authorities is clear.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • MacKenzie Architects

    No they couldn't have.
    The Architect was way down the line.
    The whole PFI setup was a deal to benefit the big accounting a legal consultancies, who fritter away millions of public money, and then set up ridiculous supply chains.
    Financial and Legal guys -with a few Surveyor types
    Then a development contractor -doing nothing
    A Design team somewhere in amongst that -and maybe only to concept level
    Then a main contractor -and maybe a production Architect
    and then a whole raft of sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors.
    -and on top of all that, some criminally-worded contracts for lease terms and maintenance.

    Central Government are to blame for this, easy prey for money-grabbing advisors and incompetent to make any decisions.

    In the old days, the Town Clerk or County office would work out a brief in consultation with the County Architect. They would either phone a friend (pity) or design the schools in house. There was nothing to stop them doing a proper shortlist procedure.

    Now, if you elect good people to run your Council, you might get a competent client, which helps you get a decent building. If you don't, you might get something cheap, nasty, ill-fitted for purpose.

    Until we put good people in local, regional and national government, we'll get an HS2, a PFI, and every other shambles, every time we setup a programme.

    * HS2 -spent so far and nothing to show for it- £1,400,000,000 and counting. PFI was chickenfeed compared to that largesse. Maybe we are world-leaders in pouring money down the drain, something to be proud of.

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