Black’s Blog: Save or demolish in Dundee?

Jimmy Black

Jimmy Black, former Housing Convener at Dundee City Council, has been campaigning to stop the demolition of historic tenements in Blackness Road. Previously he wrote that a consultation exercise had been misreported to councillors. Now he says Freedom of Information has thrown up new contradictions.

Dundee City Council is demolishing three historic tenements in Blackness Road, and I think they’re getting this grievously wrong. Freedom of Information revealed that the majority of council tenants in the blocks wanted them refurbished, and that private tenants were not even asked for their views. Councillors were given a misleading report which claimed that the majority of “residents” wanted demolition.

Now new information has come to light.

Councillors were told in October 2017 that “The roofs have reached the end of their useful life and require to be replaced, there are several roof leaks at present and tenants have had to be decanted”. Under Freedom of Information I asked for all the relevant engineers’ reports. In 2015 engineers inspected the roofs and reported … “no defects were observed other than a few missing roof slates.” There was also minor cracking in the west chimney of 229-237. An updated report in September 2016 made no mention of the roofs.

The engineers also reported leaking downpipes and gutters, with damage to stonework, and damp walls close to the leaks. These are all matters which are the responsibility of the council. Nonetheless the engineers described the three blocks as “generally in a fair condition”.

Just to be clear, here’s what I asked for: “Any relevant technical reports concerning these buildings prepared by architects, engineers or others in the last three years. This would include the reports informing the recommendations in 379-2017 which went to Neighbourhood Services on 30 October 2017”.

So there cannot be another professional report saying the roofs are “at the end of their useful life”. If there had been, it would have been sent to me under Freedom of Information legislation.

The Blackness Road flats have been approved for demolition. Image credit: Google Street View

I also asked for more detail on the figures presented to the councillors at the meeting when they unanimously agreed to demolition. They were given costings relating to “Rebuild the Stairwells”. But as it turns out, a more accurate heading would have been “Rebuilding the Stairwells and ReRoofing the Tenements.” The figures quoted included £40,000 for re-roofing each of the blocks, whether they needed it or not. With contingencies and professional fees, reroofing the blocks added a total of £149,730 to the quoted costs for rebuilding the stair towers. That’s significant.

Now it might be that reroofing the tenements is desirable. But on the basis of these engineers’ reports, there is nothing to say reroofing is essential at this time.

What about the three stair towers? Do they really need replaced? According to the engineers’ reports, as of June 2016 two had not yet reached a critical condition, though “deterioration is inevitable”. One has a serious structural defect which is currently propped. Action has been taken to ensure residents are safe. Interestingly, in 2015 the engineers estimated it would cost £100,000 to sort the stair towers, plus design fees, contingencies and the cost of disturbing tenants. In 2017 the minimum cost quoted was eight times greater at £880,000. What happened in between?

It becomes even clearer that councillors took their decision to clear out their own tenants, and pay half a million pounds to private landlords on the basis of inadequate and misleading information.

A postscript. In September 2016, just before the consultation with residents and owners began, an engineers’ report looked at short and medium term options for ensuring the safety of the stairwells. There is no consideration of long term options, because “The Housing Investment Unit option appraisal is likely to conclude that redevelopment of the site is the most appropriate long term action. Redevelopment is likely to take 2-3 years to implement.”

The councillors may think they made the decision on 30 October 2017. It’s pretty obvious the real decision was made over a year before, on information they never got to see. I have asked the Convener of the Scrutiny Committee, Councillor Kevin Keenan, to call this decision in for a thorough examination. This is not some dry procedural matter. It’s about destroying 26 homes and forcing out long standing tenants. And it’s a disgrace.

  • A former convener of housing at Dundee City Council, Jimmy Black now works in Technology Enabled Care and writes here in a personal capacity.