Architects warned of PPP dangers ‘at the time’

Alan Dunlop
Alan Dunlop

Leading architects have detailed their long-standing concerns over public-private partnerships (PPP) contracts following the closure of schools in Edinburgh over safety fears.

The City of Edinburgh Council ordered the closure of 17 schools on Friday after the private consortium behind the construction and maintenance of the schools, the Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP), admitted that it cannot guarantee the safety the buildings.

Structural faults have been detected in some of the buildings, which were all built under the first round of public-private partnerships (PPP).

Architect Professor Alan Dunlop said he was worried that what had happened in Edinburgh is PPP “chickens coming home to roost” and warned that the council may have to knock down and rebuild some of the schools.

The visiting professor at Robert Gordon University said: “I’m not surprised, it was 2005 when I was speaking out about PPP and people were calling me a prophet of doom, but it’s based on experience of 25 years as an architect and it’s to do with the principal problem of the separation of the design team from the client body. Rather than the architect working for the client, the architect works for the contractor.”

The architect added: “The worst possible scenario? You need to take the school down, or the building down, or the wall down, or the roof down, and reconstruct it – and reconstruct it in a proper way.”

Neil Baxter, secretary of RIAS, said it was now time to return to traditional methods of procurement for major public buildings.

He said: “The fundamental flaw in much PPP procurement is that there’s always been too much focus on the private profit of the building company and a bias in favour of their making money, rather than an extremely high-quality job. Something that was seen as expedient and cost-saving by public authorities has been proven to be an enormous and hugely wasteful abuse of public funds.

“Edinburgh is not the worst. There are shocking instances elsewhere of processes where PPP has created very, very bad buildings which are then on a long-term maintenance contract at a premium price. Because they are such bad buildings – and I’m thinking in particular about school buildings – the kids react against that and vandalise the buildings, the repairs then have to be carried out by the original offending contractor, who by dint of doing something really bad has created a ‘dripping roast’.”