Experts warn of inspection gap after Edinburgh schools closed due to wall collapse

14 June 2017, 15:30 | Updated: 14 June 2017, 15:36

Oxgangs Primary

A construction expert who reported on the temporary closure of 17 schools in Edinburgh due to safety fears after a wall collapse has said there is a "gap in the system'' leading to a lack of scrutiny.

Professor John Cole's report found it was down to timing and luck that no deaths or injuries occurred in the incident at Oxgangs Primary in January 2016.

Approximately nine tons of masonry fell on an area where children could easily have been standing or passing through.

Investigations found ties needed to connect the walls to steel beams had not been used in some cases, leaving them unstable in heavy winds.

The city council temporarily shut the schools, which were all built or refurbished as part of the same public-private partnership (PPP) scheme, after operator Edinburgh Schools Partnership said it was unable to provide safety assurances for the properties.

Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Education Committee, Mr Cole said the fundamental issue was there was no-one with responsibility on behalf of the client to ensure the building met contracted standards as the role of clerk of works conducting on-site daily checks has been "discarded''.

He said: "There's a thought put about by quite a few legal advisers that the client doesn't want to take responsibility for any contributory negligence by having his people look at the wall and comment on it and ask contractors to do anything - you stand back and let the builder do it.

"The risk with that is that the builder may do it wrong because at times there's perverse incentives for contractors to not mark their own homework down, and force them to rebuild walls, cost them extra money and delays.

"The contractor will always give their own work the benefit of the doubt.

"When a contractor knows a clerk of works is on site, I feel the attitude is different because they know if they build something inappropriately it will be marked and they will be told to be rebuild again.

"The procurement models we have created a gap of the detailed level of inspection.''

He added this can cause "real problems'' and will continue to do so until something is done about ensuring independent scrutiny.

Mr Cole said: "`The main issue in my mind is looking forward to say that we should ensure that no further buildings are built with this level of defects and the risks associated with them.''

He added: "You don't generally let the kids mark their own homework. That's what we've been doing with the contractors.

"The key is not to find it out afterwards but to stop it happening in the first place, and that's where we've been making the short cuts.''