Defying Adversity: Aberdeen's Council Missteps and Community Resilience Amidst RAAC Housing Crisis

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London: (By Hannah Chowdhry and Juliet Chowdhry) Hannah Chowdhry purchased her home in August 2023, only to discover by November of the same year that her roof contained RAAC. Having poured all her savings into her home, Hannah faces significant losses if Aberdeen City Council (ACC) fails to acknowledge their responsibility. It's worth noting that, like many younger homeowners, Hannah did not receive any discounts when acquiring her property.

On February 29, 2024, Aberdeen City Council (ACC) made the critical decision to evacuate 299 council homes in the area, leaving over 140 ex-council homeowners in a dire situation. These homeowners now find themselves facing a precarious predicament, as their properties hold minimal equity and are threatened by potential roof collapse. (Read decision notes here).

In response to this pressing crisis, local residents have proactively taken action. They convened a community meeting at the Golden Tee pub and established a dedicated local Facebook page to enhance communication and collaboration. Their collective efforts have culminated in the formation of a new residents association known as the Torry RAAC Campaign Group (TRGC).

To further address the challenges at hand, a community gathering is scheduled for 6 pm on Sunday, March 24, at the White Cockade, with a significant turnout anticipated. The agenda for this gathering includes the ratification of a new constitution and the election of a committee to lead the newly formed residents association. While a provisional committee has been nominated by a steering group, comprising Amie Bruce as Group Secretary, Lynne Winstanley as Treasurer, and Hannah Chowdhry as Chairperson, these positions will be subject to election during the community meeting. Additionally, individuals interested in challenging for a position are encouraged to come forward.

The meeting will also serve as an opportunity for all attendees to collectively consider a litigation strategy. The proposal to be presented at the meeting involves each resident contributing £100 towards a fund, enabling the exploration of two potential courses of action:

1. Pursuing claims related to the sale of properties with latent defects and/or claims of negligence stemming from a failure to conduct regular annual inspections or replace roofs after the 30-year lifespan of the RAAC roof panels. Additionally, seeking recourse for the failure to communicate potential dangers to homebuyers, many of whom, would likely not have purchased these properties had they been aware of the risks.

2. Engaging legal advocacy in the event of council-initiated demolition, to ensure that any compulsory purchase order, if necessary, is equitable for homebuyers. This may also involve negotiating fair terms for any voluntary purchase orders.

Details regarding compulsory orders are indeed vague, particularly concerning property valuations, which seem to be based on the time of declaration of the compulsory order and the immediate value prior to that. For further clarification, please refer to section 4 of the document provided by the Scottish Government here.

In the event that Aberdeen City Council (ACC) plans a road through our area, we could potentially face an even more challenging situation. You can find more information on road projects on the Transport Scotland website here. This possibility arises particularly due to the strong opposition to the road leading through St Fitticks Park under the current SHP Transport link proposal (click here), coupled with the potential pursuit of demolition of council houses by ACC. 

In 1995, a structural performance evaluation of RAAC conducted by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) found that RAAC planks, following inspections of cracked units in school roofs, could not be expected to have a useful life much beyond 30 years. As a result of these findings, RAAC was subsequently removed as an approved construction material in BS8110 (Read page 32 of SCOSS report).

The council's denial of pre-knowledge regarding RAAC or the conditions of some properties contradicts the historical record. As outlined earlier, all UK councils were informed of the dangers associated with RAAC in 1995. Furthermore, council tenants had to wage battles to have repairs made to their properties in the 1990s before the right-to-buy purchases commenced. This suggests that Aberdeen City Council was aware of the defects before selling properties to unsuspecting buyers.

Given these complexities, it would be advisable for a solicitor to review the situation thoroughly. They can provide the necessary legal expertise to navigate through these intricacies and ensure that the rights and interests of residents are protected.

Archived newspaper clippings from the 1990s, warning of building defects before properties were sold, raises significant questions. While these articles may not have explicitly mentioned RAAC, it's perplexing that Aberdeen City Council (ACC), given their involvement in constructing the properties and conducting inspections at the time of the article, was not aware of this information. This suggests a failure on the part of ACC to adequately communicate crucial information to unsuspecting buyers. Such oversight underscores the need for transparency and accountability in the handling of property transactions to ensure the well-being and rights of buyers are safeguarded.

A protest has been scheduled for 9 am on March 28th outside Aberdeen City Council HQ at Marischal College, AB10 1AB. Following the protest, at 10 am on the same day, Hannah will deliver a deputation to a Communities, Housing, and Public Protection Committee. We urge all those able to attend to join us in this visible and vocal demonstration of our opposition to Aberdeen City Council's unjust and misguided decision, which has placed local homeowners in a precarious situation.

Additionally, a Topical Questions Committee session was convened at the Scottish Parliament on March 1st. For further details, please refer to the video below:

During the meeting, a response from the Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Summer to a question raised by Michael Mara MSP suggests that the Scottish Government had previously committed to providing a fund for the RAAC crisis but has failed to fulfill this obligation. Furthermore, the SNP Government minister clarified that there isn't an immediate necessity for evacuation, which is why not all homes are being evacuated. One potential solution to our crisis could involve triggering a budget allocation through the Scottish Government to cover the replacement of roofs. Local councillors and council officers highlighted this proposition to Hannah Chowdhry before the announcement following the Urgent Business Meeting (UBM).  Read more on the Topical Questions meeting (here).

Currently, there are several crucial documents that everyone should familiarize themselves with to grasp our current situation. Chief among them is the 90-page report submitted by Fairhurst Surveyors to Aberdeen City Council for their pivotal Urgent Business Meeting on February 29th, 2024. 

Residents have raised concerns that there may be hidden agendas behind the decision to pursue demolition, especially considering the existence of several viable alternatives to address the RAAC issue. This suspicion has been previously discussed (see here). To provide further insight, I will present an excerpt from the Fairhurst report, which was graciously shared by Ricky Burgess on Facebook:

The Fairhurst report clearly indicates that the 'Planned Decant' is listed as the most disruptive option. While the report doesn't explicitly state that demolition and reconstruction of new properties would be the most expensive option, it's evident that securing funds for demolition, ensuring safety, and then proceeding with reconstruction would entail significant costs. In contrast, the temporary removal option would have allowed for complete replacement at a lower cost, resulting in a more favorable outcome.

Residents have voiced concerns that factors beyond pure necessity may be influencing the decision-making process of our local authority. One plausible motive could be to capitalize on local investment opportunities. The demolition of our homes and subsequent development of new properties would likely contribute to the ongoing investment momentum surrounding major projects such as the £420 million South Harbour Project Expansion (click here), SHP Transport links plan (click here), the Environmental Transition Zone (click here), and the Aberdeen Investment area grant of £80 million (click here). It's apparent that with so much proposed development in the area, outdated housing structures like the chicken shed houses have become viewed as unaesthetic hindrances to progress. It's conceivable that local authorities may have prioritized the interests of influential stakeholders over the well-being of residents in Balnagask.  You can watch a promotional video for the ETZ here:

Discussing the Environmental Transition Zone (ETZ) project, a recent article shed light on the community's strong opposition to the potential loss of green spaces in the Torry area (click here). It's indeed thought-provoking to consider how much easier it would be to disregard these concerns and sacrifice green areas or relocate proposals to a demolition site once local residents have been displaced.

Despite the understandable feelings of defeat among some residents, the TRCG urges everyone to remain resilient throughout this process. We are maintaining a high level of media interest, and our campaign continues to garner visibility. Our petition has now garnered 498 signatures, including many from across the country and internationally. Through our petition, we have also brought similar concerns raised in Linlithgow, West Lothian, and Clackmannanshire to the attention of media groups.

We encourage you to share our petition widely with your friends and contacts. Our support base need not be limited to local residents; anyone, anywhere with a sense of conscience is welcome to lend their support.

While some may believe that pursuing a compulsory purchase order would be the most favorable outcome, this is not necessarily the case. The Scottish Parliament has committed to establishing a fund to address the RAAC crisis, and it's imperative that we ensure homebuyers are included in this process. It's important to recognize that no council in the country will be permitted to go bankrupt. We must convince our local councillors and council officers to accept liability regardless of the cost. This action would trigger the necessary budget allocation from the Scottish Government, which may, if necessary, involve referral back to the UK Parliament and compel Rishi Sunak to make the right decision, despite any initial statements to the contrary (click here).

Finally, everyone must understand that their houses are likely safe. The council has not implemented immediate evacuations for tenants or homeowners, which would occur if there was a significant risk of collapse. It's important to highlight that some NHS hospitals have chosen to retain RAAC panels, implementing regular inspections and addressing defects as needed. These hospitals serve thousands of people, and their buildings have been declared safe despite the presence of RAAC panels. This underscores the fact that, with proper maintenance and oversight, buildings containing RAAC can indeed be considered safe for occupancy.  Experts have similarly agreed on a similar approach, indicating that RAAC will likely remain a part of many of our lives.

It's crucial not to let unnecessary fear overwhelm us. While we cannot provide an absolute guarantee of the safety of every roof, it's important to recognize that there are hundreds of thousands of properties across the UK with RAAC, and collapses are exceedingly rare - less than 1%.

Wilson Chowdhry, said: 

"On a personal level, I've advised my daughter Hannah to exercise patience and wait for the council's decision over the next six months before proceeding with any further work or inspections on her house."

"During this period, my objective is to obtain an acknowledgment of responsibility from Aberdeen City Council or to gain a clearer understanding of our available options. 

"I cannot express enough the significance of seriously considering the initiation of a collective litigation process.

"We find ourselves in an immensely dire financial predicament due to the actions of a council that has shown a blatant disregard for the value of the properties they sold, effectively reducing their equity to zero due to latent defects.

"This situation reeks of sheer greed, and the entire debacle appears to be steeped in corruption."

We list below some of  the media coverage our campaign has gathered:

https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/aberdeen-aberdeenshire/6279115/raac-student-torry/

https://news.stv.tv/north/resident-in-shock-after-being-forced-to-evacuate-from-home-in-aberdeen-after-raac-concrete-found

 

https://www.scottishhousingnews.com/articles/petition-calls-for-concrete-solution-for-torry-raac-problem

 

https://inews.co.uk/news/housing/forced-out-homes-raac-concrete-nightmare-2951856

 

https://www.pakistanchristianpost.com/head-line-news-details/7940

 

https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/aberdeen-aberdeenshire/6390956/torry-raac-protest-council/

 

https://www.pressreader.com/uk/the-press-and-journal-aberdeen-and-aberdeenshire/20231211/281621015118173

 

https://news.stv.tv/north/aberdeen-community-facing-housing-crisis-as-around-500-homes-built-using-flawed-concrete-raac

 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-68477200

 

https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/politics/scottish-politics/6393412/torry-raac-insurance-mortgages/

 

https://news.stv.tv/north/council-faces-difficult-decisions-with-no-extra-funding-amid-raac-crisis

 

https://www.scottishconstructionnow.com/articles/raac-affected-properties-in-aberdeen-could-be-demolished

 

https://www.concreteconnect.co.uk/news/hundreds-to-be-rehomed-over-raac-fears

 

https://planetradio.co.uk/northsound/local/news/raac-aberdeen-city-council-torry-balnagask-residents-rehomed/

 

https://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/raac-concrete-scotland-discovery-of-raac-in-housing-could-be-beginning-of-national-scandal-4540078

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