MSPs ‘dismayed’ at repeated failure of Local Authority Building Standards Scotland to engage on ‘zero valued homes’

The Scottish Parliament’s local government and communities committee has written to Local Authority Building Standards Scotland (LABSS) chair, Scott McKenzie, over the body’s “repeated failure” to engage with its work on the issue of ‘zero valued homes’.

MSPs ‘dismayed’ at repeated failure of Local Authority Building Standards Scotland to engage on ‘zero valued homes’

James Dornan MSP

The issue occurs when apartments, usually in modern tenement blocks or conversations, receive a zero valuation in a home survey because of a concern that cladding or other external wall systems may not meet current regulatory standards on fire safety.

In the letter, the committee said it has been seeking the expert views of Local Authority Building Standards Scotland ever since ‘zero valued homes’ emerged as a significant concern across the UK around a year ago.

Committee convener James Dornan MSP said clerks to the committee first contacted Mr McKenzie on 6 November 2019 when they forwarded a request that he gives evidence at a future meeting or, failing that, provide a written submission. Over the following months, there have been “various further attempts” to make contact, though “not one has elicited a positive response”.

Mr Dornan wrote: “The committee is dismayed by this repeated failure to engage with our work. Committees of the Scottish Parliament exist to serve the Scottish people and the public interest. In inviting LABSS to participate in our scrutiny of the zero homes problem, we are inviting you to join with other stakeholders in helping the committee understand the problem better, and to help find a solution.

“If it is your view that you have no role in this work, you should make this clear and set out your reasons. If this is not the case, I imagine that members of the building standards profession, working in the public interest across Scotland, will be as surprised as we are that you have not taken up the opportunity to speak on their behalf on this important matter.

“In writing to you now, I am once more giving LABSS an opportunity to contribute to our work on this issue, by providing us with a written submission, and I hope that you take it up. If not, I give notice that committees of the Scottish Parliament have powers in relation to witnesses and evidence, and these other options of engaging with you will then be on the table.”

The committee’s specific request is for a short submission setting out LABSS’s perspective on the combination of factors that has led the zero homes issue to have arisen, and on the best way forward.

Matters that LABSS may wish to touch on include:

  1. LABSS’s perspective on the main causes for a zero valuation: is this primarily an uncertainty/ risk appetite problem on the part of lenders or does it arise from legitimate and real concerns about the materials used on the walls of some modern apartment buildings?
  2. Views on whether the EWS1 form and associated process is a step forward. Did the building standards profession have a role in devising it? Do officers typically have any role in helping with the completion of an individual form? If a form returns a problematic result for a property, is there a feedback loop to ensure that officers in the relevant local authority are notified? If the process has led to remediation work being carried out, have council verifiers been fully involved in that process?
  3. Why are lenders apparently demanding the completion of an EWS1 form even for some new build homes in Scotland? If the verification process is robust and the regulatory system is sound, how can this be possible?
  4. In relation to homes built earlier this century that have recently received a zero valuation, LABSS’s response to claims that this has exposed a lack of robustness in the local authority regulatory process in place at the time. Does LABSS accept this? If so, how have things changed since then?
  5. Views on the new High Rise Inventory: will it be a useful resource? What role have building standards officer had in preparing it? What does LABSS think of the suggestion that all buildings on the register should periodically receive an “MOT” to verify their continuing regulatory compliance? And should building standards officers have a role in any such process?
  6. Views on the Working Group on mortgages and cladding recently set up by the Scottish Government and clarification as to whether LABSS has a role in it;
  7. Views on any other relevant matter, with a particular focus on helping point the committee towards a practical solution for householders in this situation.

The committee has requested a response in advance of its next evidence session on this matter is on September 4, when it will be receiving an update from the Scottish Government.

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