Is there anything between ruinous neglect and ruinous expenditure?

Posted by on Nov 24, 2016 in Building Surveying, Education

Is there anything between ruinous neglect and ruinous expenditure?

In January 2016 the seven common owners of a B Listed tenement in a conservation area were offered a grant of up to £150,000 towards the cost of a common repair scheme estimated to cost £300K.  The grant offer was couched in much more complex terms but the bottom line was that the cost to each owner would, on this calculation, have been over £21K each on average.  The project envisaged by these works followed a standard pattern which will be familiar to anyone who has knowledge of the “Common Repair” projects of recent years.  It would have given the roof a completely new covering and rainwater goods and it would have rebuilt and/or repaired various masonry elements.


The cost of this work presented a number of difficulties to the common owners.  The capital value of the units had not increased in recent years so there was no significant pool of “equity” in the building.  One of the owners had recently purchased a flat and no mention of roof issues had been raised at the time of purchase so they had not been factored into the owner’s calculations.  In consequence this owner was adamant in refusing to take part in any such common repair project.  Another approach needed to be considered.

The major cost of most common repair projects is scaffolding and it would have been a significant cost here.  For reslating and the renewal of wallhead gutter linings it is essential.  Our judgement of the roof coverings in this instance was that they were old, mainly mid twentieth century but not Victorian, and had a reasonable remaining life despite having suffered some lack of maintenance.  The stonework was showing signs of decay but was not dangerous or likely to fail rapidly.  There was staining from roof leaks but there was also evidence that this had been arrested in the past and that the resulting repairs were holding up.  In short, by dealing with various items of accrued maintenance the roof could be given at least ten years of additional life and by limiting the scope of the work in this way the need for scaffolding was removed.

The work was undertaken by a conscientious builder.  Slipped and missing slates were reinstated, sheet metal roof coverings were given an extended life with proprietary coating systems, a neglected roof lantern light and a rusty iron rooflight were given a new lease of life, cracking skew fillets were renewed, the chimneys were repointed in lime mortar, a chimney with a missing cope was capped off and sundry open joints that were letting water into the chimney heads and accelerating their demise were pointed up.

The total cost of this work including fees amounted to about £10K so the average cost per owner was comfortably less than £1500 or 1/15th of the cost of a full scale “Common Repair”.  Of course this does not eliminate the need for such a project in the longer term and the cost of ongoing maintenance will probably be somewhat higher in the meantime than it would have been following more comprehensive works.

It has to be admitted that, quite often, this approach cannot realistically be recommended.  If it is impossible to avoid the use of scaffolding the arithmetic becomes completely different.  Having incurred the overhead cost of scaffolding would it make sense to merely to extend the life of important components for a number of years?  However, it is hard to avoid the sneaking suspicion that grant aided repair schemes are driven by a number of vested interests from the public servants and professional consultants who administer them, to the contractors who would much prefer to gear up to projects in which there are significantly higher margins to be made and that sometimes this represents a conspiracy against the public interest.  The net result of public policy in this area has been to engender a common belief that there is no option between ruinous neglect and ruinously costly expenditure.  This is not good for the fabric of commonly owned traditional residential and commercial property.