Common Repairs – A Change in Direction

Posted by on Mar 20, 2012 in Building Surveying

The sad state of affairs in Edinburgh Council’s Conservation Department revealed by last September’s BBC investigation has many facets to it and, as yet, many of them are unclear.

The Statutory Notice system, which used to be seen as a model of civic excellence, has all too often made it easier for Common Owners to refuse to co-operate with each other but in the end they have been left feeling marginalised and ripped off. In turn many owners have responded by behaving in a petty and mean-spirited way turning Common Repairs into a nightmare for all concerned.

Edinburgh Council will not, for the foreseable future, issue Statutory Notices like confetti. Yet it is in the interests of building owners to ensure that their buildings are well maintained.

Over many years GLM have undertaken Common Repairs on behalf of Common Owners who were prepared to work together. The advantages of this approach are that the Owners stay in charge; they do what they choose to do based on our advice and their own circumstances.

GLM’s approach is to keep the owners informed and provide them with options and choices whilst guiding and not dictating. We are not governed by a bureaucratic set of rules and therefore believe that professionalism is about thinking through each problem from scratch, albeit informed by experience and tailoring solutions to fit the specific needs of the building and the owners.

GLM Case Study No 1

We were asked to assist with a tenement in Stockbridge Edinburgh which had flaking stonework to the front and rear elevations. We advised that the loose stonework was dangerous, certain individual stones needed to be replaced and in some cases early action was required to prevent greater expense in the future. We also looked at the roof and reported on its condition. We told them what it would cost to do the job properly. However we also advised that the work could be phased and that a third of the ultimate budget would get them a building that was no longer dangerous or in decline but it would look pretty awful and this might make it difficult to sell their flats so, if they adopted this policy, they should think of doing another tranche of work in a few years time. After two or three evening meetings there was a consensus on the way ahead and we prepared drawings and a detailed description of works, obtained competitive tenders and delivered the project a few pounds within budget. We did do a lesser amount of work and the building does not look wonderful at the end of it, but it can be said to be in “good repair”. It is inconceivable that this could have been achieved by going down the route of a Statutory Notice and the Council doing the work. Now the owners are saving up for the next phase.

GLM Case Study No 2

We were approached by the Common Proprietors of a block in Castle Street Edinburgh following the service of an initial Statutory Notice by Edinburgh Council in relation to various items of disrepair to the external fabric. It took 5 years for the five owners (three private residential landlords and two commercial tenants) to come to an agreement on the apportionment of costs but they got there in the end with the help of a little gentle mediation and some fairly complicated arithmetic!

The building concerned is a part of the first New Town. Feuing commenced in Castle Street in 1792 and this block was evidently a very grand tenemental development with Corinthian pilasters on the front. The architect James Gillespie Graham (1776—1855) lived in the maindoor flat which subsequently became a fast food restaurant. Ignominiously the facade has been defaced by subsequent shop frontages leaving only a vestige of its former grandeur. Lead gutters, loose slates and crumbling stonework were the main focus of the remedial works. The successful tenderer for the works was Cornhill Building Services. The project had to contend with atrocious weather but in the end Cornhill were pleased to have had the opportunity, for once, to do a “proper job”.

Where to now with Common Repairs?

The Statutory Notice system as we have known it in Edinburgh is certain to be radically cut back. It might make sense to follow the Glasgow model and employ Factors to look after common property. However this could take time. In the meantime building owners who can get it together might like to consider this approach:

  • Don’t wait until you have a problem – call GLM and we will carry out an independent survey for a sensible fee and provide a report with recommendations and budget costs and, where appropriate, options for phasing. It may be that your building is fine. If so we won’t invent problems.

  • Don’t ask contractors to give quotes for undefined work. They will compete on price and specification and you will not know which quote to choose and you will probably end up with bad value. Get us to specify what is to be done and create a level playing field for quotations. Also let us use our industry knowledge to pick good contractors to quote.

  • Delegate to us the task of inspecting the work and telling you when you should pay for it. We will be fair on you and fair on the contractor and you will benefit from the atmosphere of trust that this engenders.

GLM will always:

– Give independent professional advice
– Treat the owners as our client
– Look for good value solutions that fit the requirements of the owners
– Keep the owners informed on cost and progress
– Make sure the owners get what they are paying for