BEFS’ update on campaign to improve property maintenance and repair in Scotland 

websiteDirector of Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS), Euan Leitch, provided an update on recent developments in the ongoing campaign to improve property maintenance in Scotland, including the establishment of a parliamentary working group on the maintenance of tenement communal property and newly commissioned research.

Euian Leitch said: ‘The recommendation that legislative action is required to improve building energy efficiency is unsurprising given the low priority similarly given to basic building maintenance which is a prerequisite in improving building performance. Holistic approaches to energy efficiency in buildings under shared ownership are even more challenging and the Scottish Parliament working group looking at tenement maintenance will also be looking at how improved efficiency can be factored in to planned maintenance and repairs appropriate to building type.’

BEFS writes:

In 2011 Built Environment Forum Scotland (BEFS) along with other professional bodies launched a campaign calling for a form of ‘building MOT’ by subscription: an annual survey of buildings in Scotland to ascertain the state of disrepair. The proposal was aimed at a full cross section of the built environment from traditional buildings right up to those built ten years ago and was responding to the Scottish House Condition Survey (SHCS) collated results on the state of disrepair of Scottish homes.

The campaign resulted in a project in Stirling, the Traditional Buildings Health Check (TBHC), now in its final year of the original 5-year pilot and delivered by Stirling City Heritage Trust. The final results of the TBHC have yet to be reported but BEFS understands interim reports to be positive and that there is a desire for the project to continue, with 50% of the membership scheme undertaking maintenance/repair to their properties with minimal need for public subsidy for repairs. Other City Heritage Trusts are also now looking at the pilot.

The most recent Scottish House Condition Survey reported that 68% of all dwellings exhibited some degree of disrepair. If these figures are then broken down by the age of the dwelling we see a clear link with disrepair. Older properties are in the poorest condition. The tenure with the poorest rate of disrepair is the, increasing, private rented sector.

BEFS convened a roundtable discussion in July 2017 on the continued challenges facing the repair and maintenance of residential buildings under shared ownership. Organisations with a national interest in the issue were invited in attempt to map out what different groups were proposing as solutions and discuss a route to progress them. All recognised that there remained significant challenges for owners finding agreement to undertake repair and maintenance and that the provisions of the Tenement Scotland Act 2004 had not had the impact anticipated. There is also anecdotal evidence of housing associations and local authorities selling properties in tenements where they are not the majority stakeholder due to the difficulties of agreeing common repairs.

The issue is not restricted to traditional buildings – tenemental council housing in the post-war new towns that was subject to right-to-buy and some is now held by non-domiciled absentee landlords. Some do not share the same level of interest in building condition as resident owners and local authorities who are faced with same challenges in arranging maintenance and repair as owners of the most historic tenements. Further research revealed this was an issue for local authorities across urban Scotland.

In November 2017 Graham Simpson hosted a parliamentary reception regarding RICS tenement health check. Subsequently in January 2018 the Scottish Parliament debated Ben MacPherson MSP’s motion on the Maintenance of Tenement Communal Property which included the proposal for a cross party working group on the subject.

The working group was convened by Ben Macpherson MSP in March 2018 with the agreed purpose to: Consider and establish solutions to urge, assist and compel owners of Tenement properties to maintain their Scheme Property.

The first meeting saw cross party attendance with representatives from property management, property law, chartered survey and architecture with BEFS and the RICS providing the secretariat function. The aims are long term, provisionally making recommendations at the end of this parliament.

The initial topics to be explored for the next meeting in May were agreed to be:

  • Resourcing for local authorities to utilise powers
  • Standard entity for owners to organise works
  • Building inspection
  • Strategic Historic Environment Forum

BEFS Director was invited to present a paper on the working group to the Strategic Historic Environment Forum (SHEF), chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs.  The condition of traditional buildings is a matter of importance to SHEF as the percentage of pre-1919 dwellings classified as having disrepair to critical elements are a proxy indicator for the state of Scotland’s historic environment on the National Performance Framework. Progress on improving this is in the right direction but is slow and, given the impact poor maintenance and repair can have on residents represents, a very human problem.

The Forum responded positively to the establishment of the working group and acknowledged that the issue was complex with multiple layers that need addressed to shift attitudes towards responsible ownership. Areas that were discussed included:

  • The condition of pre-1919 buildings is niche, politically speaking, and widening the advocacy to all buildings has resulted in greater traction: how can the heritage sector respond positively to this without losing sight of the specific needs of traditional buildings?
  • Is there a shared aim to move owners from grant dependency to responsible, self -funded maintenance and repair?
  • If compulsion is deemed necessary though, what would be the best route to support owners in precarious financial situations?
  • Local authorities are commonly seen as the key yet evidence suggest a serious lack of capacity, how can this be overcome?

With partner funding from the RICS and Scottish Government, BEFS has commissioned Professor Douglas Robertson to provide a comprehensive review of the literature and legislation affecting common property maintenance in Scotland, updating work previously undertaken in 2002. BEFS will continue to provide updates on the outputs of the cross party working group.

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