Last week, councillors in Edinburgh agreed new plans for the re-designed property conservation service.
The new service, which will launch from the start of next month under the name Shared Repairs Service, has been developed to replace the current statutory repairs system in the wake of serious concerns over the management and execution of repairs work.
While the Council will retain the option of issuing a statutory notice in emergencies, the new service will initially focus on the provision of advice and information to support homeowners to take responsibility for maintenance work.
This will include information on building services like property factors and management agencies, advice on how to organise shared repairs, and details of the options available to owners to meet their share of the costs.
Information will be provided in a variety of online, printed and face-to-face formats but the challenge will be promoting it to the extent that people take the advice on board.
I am all in favour of improved advice but remain concerned that some owners, particularly absentee owners, prove hard to get hold of and simply do not engage with other owners in the regular repair and maintenance that our buildings need. This was a key driver behind the huge increase in demand for statutory notices and why the statutory notice process came to be seen as a first, rather than a last resort.
The public consultation on the service re-design identified widespread support for the principle of statutory notices while noting concern about how they were being implemented.
I am pleased that the Council is taking this support on board as it continues to develop an approach that would allow the Council to continue to undertake larger, non-emergency projects on behalf of residents. A key part of this will be that the Council will generally only undertake work that is essential – a key failing of the previous scheme which saw costs of works escalate rapidly in some cases. I will continue to monitor progress towards developing this approach.
While I broadly support the approach being taken by the Council, the report presented to councillors remained relatively vague. The success or otherwise of the new scheme will depend on the quality of service that people receive whether it is the information they can access, the level of customer support available or the quality of work that is undertaken.
I was glad to see that councillors decided to fast track consideration of an update on the implementation of the new scheme. The original proposal by officials to wait a year would have kicked the issue into the long grass.
I am particularly keen to see consideration of how legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament on the law of the Tenement might be incorporated into the council’s approach. This legislation provides a template for a tenement scheme which enables a majority of owners who’ve agreed a scheme of repairs and maintenance to proceed with works. The problem is that builders will not commence works without certainty that they will be paid and owners are understandably not prepared to pay for someone else’s share. I will be attempting to find out if the council’s reluctance to go down this route is because of legislative competence or of the lack of finance to fund the potential costs of, for example, paying the share of recalcitrant owners and then pursuing them for their share.
I will be continuing to monitor what’s happening to resolve outstanding problems on existing statutory notices as well as pursuing a longer term solution.