Wall ties and bricklaying to blame for Edinburgh schools failures, finds report
A lack of proper scrutiny in construction work has been cited as the main reason for the debacle that forced 17 Edinburgh schools to close last year, according to a new report.
The long-awaited independent investigative report criticised the construction company involved as well as City of Edinburgh Council and the partnership that managed the building contracts.
An inquiry was set up last year following the closure of the schools due to safety failures. Around 7,600 pupils were affected by the closures.
Leading architect and procurement specialist John Cole headed up the inquiry.
In his report, he said: “The fact that no injuries or fatalities to children resulted from the collapse of the gable wall at Oxgangs School was a matter of timing and luck.
“Approximately nine tonnes of masonry fell on an area where children could easily have been standing or passing through.
“One does not require much imagination to think of what the consequences might have been if it had happened an hour or so later.”
The 250-page report identified fundamental defects which led to the wall collapse:
- not enough wall ties;
- the wrong type of ties were used;
- wall cavities were not uniform.
The report said: “It is the view of the inquiry that the primary cause of the collapse of the wall at Oxgangs school was poor quality construction in the building of the wall, which failed to achieve the required minimum embedment of 50mm for the wall ties, particularly in the outer leaf of the cavity wall. The poor quality relates to all three of the following aspects:
- the direct laying of the bricks and the positioning of the wall ties;
- the direct supervision of the laying of the bricks and the positioning of the wall ties;
- the quality assurance processes used by the subcontractor and main contractor to confirm the quality of the construction of the walls.
“All three issues were ultimately the responsibility of the design and build contractor in charge of the site.”
The report said it was not the result of an isolated case of a rogue bricklayer.
It said the substandard bricklaying was either not inspected or was ignored, that an appropriate level of independent scrutiny was missing, and that having a clerk of works may have made a difference.
Cole also questions whether the drive for faster, lower-cost construction is to the detriment of quality and safety.
The report recommends the construction industry should re-examine its approach to recruitment, training, selection and appointment of bricklaying subcontractors, means of remuneration, vetting of qualifications and competence, supervision and quality assurance of bricklayers.
The report said: “The construction industry should seek to review this approach to remove any perverse incentive of the payment mechanism to encourage the omission of elements providing the essential structural integrity of walls.”
The 17 schools were originally built by Miller Construction which, together with Amey, was part of the Edinburgh Schools Partnership (ESP) consortium contract. In 2001 ESP won the £360m deal to design, build and maintain the 17 schools for 30 years. Miller Construction was acquired by Galliford Try in 2014.
City of Edinburgh Council said it was drawing up an action plan to ensure confidence in the safety of all its buildings.
An ESP spokesman said: “We have fully cooperated with the council and Professor Cole in trying to establish the facts of what happened with the schools affected.
“Having only just received a copy of the report, we will now take time to consider its findings in detail before commenting further.”