Surveys into decaying RAAC expanded to cover government’s entire £158bn estate

The government has ordered a massive expansion of its investigations into the use of an unsafe form of lightweight concrete in public buildings which is putting them at risk of collapse.

All government departments have been ordered to identify buildings containing reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC), which was widely used up until the 1980s but has now passed its 30-year lifespan.

Past surveys by the departments of health, education and defence have uncovered hundreds of affected buildings which may need repair or a complete rebuild.

cabinet office

The government has ordered all departments to appoint a team to look into RAAC issues in their buildings

A briefing given by the Local Government Association last week said central government is “now looking to expand RAAC identification and remediation to the wider public estate. 

“The Office of Government Property will be convening a working group in which there will be a designated representative from each government department who is responsible for the identification and remediation of RAAC in buildings owned by that department.”

The government’s property portfolio was valued at £158bn in March 2021 and is estimated to cost the taxpayer £22bn a year to maintain.

It is understood the material is expected to primarily affect schools and hospitals built in the 1960s.

However, much of the estate has been sold to the private sector, meaning that private landlords could face costly investigations into the presence of RAAC in their buildings.

The LGA warned the problem “may be more serious than previously appreciated and … many building owners are not aware that it is present in their property”. 

A government spokesperson said: “Departments regularly review the condition of buildings they manage, including assessing safety. 

“Departments are prioritising maintenance and improvement works at those sites which have been identified as containing RAAC.”

Individual departments have been told to appoint a team to identify RAAC issues in their estates and confirm which of their sites contain the material. The teams will then report back to the Office for Government Property on progress in fixing the issues.

Last month the Ministry of Defence admitted it was urgently investigating hundreds of its buildings for the presence of RAAC.

Health minister Maria Caulfield admitted last year that 34 hospital buildings in England were at risk, a situation which was described by the boss of one affected hospital boss as a “ticking time bomb”.

In February this year, seven education unions wrote to the government demanding urgent action to ensure schools are structurally safe after a Department of Education report warned many were close to collapsing.

The report said the risk level had been escalated from “critical, likely”, to “critical, very likely” as far back as July 2021, an admission described by the unions as “truly shocking”.

In January, ministers at the Department of Education were accused of hiding the poor condition of schools in England after cancelling the publication of a survey.