Open Letter: RAAC Remediation in Torry: A Call for Responsible Action from Aberdeen City Council. By Wilson Chowdhry


London: The following open letter has been sent to all elected members of Aberdeen City Council and the Corporate Landlord, Mr. Booth, after a deputation from the UK RAAC Campaign Group was narrowly rejected by a vote of 20 to 21 during yesterday's full council meeting.

Open Letter to Stephen Booth, Corporate Landlord, and All Elected Members

Dear Mr. Booth and all Elected Members of Aberdeen City Council

RE:  RAAC Remediation in Torry: A Call for Responsible Action from Aberdeen City Council

I have carefully reviewed the agenda papers for today's full council meeting and feel compelled to express my concerns regarding the current state of RAAC remediation proposals in Torry. As it stands, there are only three potential proposals on the table. One of these is merely a very temporary measure, and I trust the council will prioritize the latter two options. However, these options are not only costly but, to date, offer no assistance to homeowners.

I urge the council to persistently seek funding support from both the Scottish and UK governments. Such support is crucial to ensure the successful completion of these projects and to provide much-needed aid to homeowners who are caught in a severe financial dilemma. The costs associated with the remedial works proposed are beyond the financial means of many homeowners. These residents live in one of the most deprived areas of Aberdeen, as indicated by the indices of deprivation.

There is a serious risk that homeowners, many of whom are elderly, very young, or have young families, are being pushed into homelessness. This includes at least four individuals who are receiving palliative care. This situation not only exacerbates the local housing shortage but also forces more people onto benefits. The elderly and those in palliative care cannot start over, while young people do not deserve a lifetime of debt for purchasing council-built properties. This creates the potential for a tragic situation.

It is concerning that no thought has been given to potential solutions such as missed share payments to be paid back upon the sale of properties or a potential loan offer. Without such options, families are at risk of being forced to live in dangerous buildings or face having their properties removed under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014. This situation mirrors the tragic events in Deans South, where, after buildings were condemned in 2004, 76 homeowners received only £18,000 for properties valued at around £110,000. Councillors in West Lothian, when recalling the Deans South RAAC crisis of 2004 recently, acknowledged at a Full Council Meeting that "this was not their finest hour" and are now working on more supportive packages for those currently in the latest RAAC crisis.

This time around, West Lothian Council has chosen remedial works for many homes within their council portfolio and might have identified a less expensive contractor. This is information that could be beneficial to Aberdeen City Council. Additionally, they are considering incorporating a loan or missed share option, which could further reduce the overall repair costs for homeowners, due to economies of scale.

Regarding the demolition option, there is a significant concern. We have reached a critical milestone towards the August report, yet homeowners remain in the dark about whether voluntary purchase offers will reflect property values before or after the discovery of RAAC in homes in October 2023. Homeowners are also anxious to know if the council will compensate for recent, significant home improvements. There is a real fear that the council might make a single offer without room for negotiation, as seen in the unfortunate 2004 response to Deans South residents.

It is shameful that you have painted the illusion that demolition is a cheaper option, suggesting that you intend to offer a pittance for homes that were worth between £70,000 and £150,000 before the discovery of RAAC in many cases. It seems to me that bureaucratic indifference has overshadowed the desire to help the citizens who look to you for protection, despite the fact that it was the council-built houses that created this situation. This is a travesty of justice.

The report needs an indication of when homes would be rebuilt after demolition, which, by my estimation, could take up to 15 years. This would exacerbate the local housing shortage for an extended period. Furthermore, it is unclear how you intend to cover the costs for voluntary purchases, or if Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) will be a last resort after offering fair prices for homes.

I am disappointed that Councillors denied me the responsibility to speak at the meeting despite the seriousness of the matter. To lose a vote by 20 votes to 21 is shocking. The only reason a deputation deadline was missed was due to an email from the Governance officer who waited until the deadline day for submissions and asked for a response the same day. I thank Cllr Simon Watson for his stringent attempts to garner an opportunity to speak by calling for a setting aside of standing orders.

I pray daily that, like Clackmannanshire Council, you will be fair in your evaluations and offer pre-RAAC discovery prices. However, we need to know how you plan to fund this. Is there enough money in the redirected funds for Ukrainian refugees, or can you propose an inventive regeneration project that might secure the necessary funds from the Scottish Government?

It is crucial to remember that real people are affected by these decisions. They risk losing their stable lives, life savings, homes, and the legacies they hoped to leave for future generations. My daughter Hannah, for instance, bought her house at 19 and now faces the prospect of paying both a mortgage and rent while trying to complete a law degree at Aberdeen University. Such a burden was never anticipated when she chose to buy a home in Aberdeen.

We ask the council to act responsibly and morally, meeting the needs outlined in human rights legislation and both UK and national laws. Go above and beyond to help the citizens of Aberdeen who desperately need your support.

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