Trade bodies to discuss how industry can respond to need for repairs in schools and other public buildings

The Construction Leadership Council is to hold a meeting tomorrow to discuss how the industry should respond to the crisis over reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete in school buildings.

Building understands that the council will put out a statement tomorrow outlining talks it has been having with the government about the deteriorating material, which has forced the closure of buildings at more than 100 schools just days before the start of the autumn term.

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC), a collective of the industry’s largest representative bodies, has so far kept quiet about the school closures and the wider problems around reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) as it has wanted to wait until tomorrow’s discussion before issuing any comment, it is believed.

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The CLC will publish a statement tomorrow on the RAAC crisis

It comes as the government faces questions over the prevalence of RAAC, which was used in many public building programmes for more than four decades, from the 1950s to 1990s, but has now passed its 30-year lifespan.

In June the government ordered all departments to investigate their estates to identify where the material is present, with fears that it could be found in social housing blocks and require the evacuations of residents.

Construction Products Association chief executive Peter Caplehorn said he does not believe it will be widespread in post-war housing estates as these were typically built onsite using concrete reinforced frames.

But he did say that types of public buildings more likely to contain RAAC include universities and prisons. It has already been identified in at least 34 hospitals, several of which have structural reinforcements in place.

The government is now weighing up options with how to deal with RAAC in schools, ranging from repairs to full demolition and rebuilds of affected blocks.

Officials have also ranked cases of RAAC in four levels, from present but posing no risk to present and critical.

>> The RAAC schools crisis: what we know so far

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Caplehorn said government estimates of how long disruption will last have so far been “wildly optimistic”.

“They could potentially be looking at substantial rebuilding. It might get to a point with some [schools] where it is actually more economically viable to do a rebuild.” 

One tier one contractor said he thought the DfE would be using the CCS framework for MMC to find the temporary accommodation. 

He said he thought the department would be using whichever firms on the framework had available units: “The crisis requires loads and loads of temporary accommodation. If you are company with lots of portable cabins available I’m sure they would be coming your way. It’s a bit of a crisis situation.”

He added: “There’s going to be a huge shortage of building surveyors now, because all of a sudden everyone’s going to want all these detailed surveys.”

Another concern is coordinating school rebuilding work with the other RAAC related work in the public sector.

The contractor said: “The industry needs this to be a managed flow of work coming through, not just everyone hitting it all at once because then you’ll have all sorts of inflationary issues, and shortages of people and God knows what.”

”We need an effective programme focused on what the priority is and what works need to be done. And [this programme] needs to come through really quickly so that the industry can work with [government] to plan resources to deal with this”.

He also warned about the dangers of asbestos, saying: “A lot of schools are full of asbestos. But because it doesn’t get disturbed it’s not an issue. Once you start messing around, putting props up and forming holes so the prop actually supports the concrete rather than guessing what it’s supporting, you’re chopping away areas where the asbestos is going to be exposed.”

Yesterday the government dashed hopes of more funding to fix RAAC issues in schools, saying the costs will come out of the DfE’s existing budget.