Mon 23 Oct 2023

RAAC problems in UK buildings

Dominating headlines in recent weeks has been the closure of school buildings in England following the discovery of problems with Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC). In certain conditions, the material can become hazardous, and elements of the buildings concerned are at risk of collapse.

RAAC was frequently used in roofs, walls and floors of buildings in the latter half of the last century as a lightweight – and cheaper – alternative to traditionally reinforced concrete. It now appears that it can be prone to deterioration and failure, particularly when affected by moisture. The speed at which steps have been taken by ministers to partially or fully close schools can be explained by an apparently recent change in expert advice which originally indicated that there was minimal risk involved.

In a ministerial statement on 19 October 2023, the Education Secretary indicated that around 214 English schools and colleges are affected by RAAC. There are believed to be around 40 in Scotland. Certain NHS hospitals, police stations and court buildings have also been identified as having potential problems with RAAC. While we’ve largely seen headlines only in relation to public sector buildings, it’s probable that the issue will extend to some privately-owned buildings that were built at the relevant time.

It remains to be seen just how extensive the problems with RAAC are, how they’ll be remedied, and the timeframes involved.

Some legal issues may inevitably have to be addressed, including potential liability arising out of the original specification and use of RAAC. However, the period of time since the RAAC was specified and used, taken with the information available on the material at the relevant time, including its design life of about 30 years, are likely to have a significant impact on any analysis. Claims are very likely to be time barred.

It should be noted, however, that the goal posts can be moved. In relation to problems associated with getting remedial works done to cladding following the Grenfell disaster, the UK Government legislated to extend the limitation periods for related claims and the parties against whom such claims could be made in certain defined circumstances.

While liability for the original specification and use of RAAC may be one thing, how the problems now emerging are addressed is quite another. The acts and omissions of those who now advise on RAAC issues which emerge, including remedial works, will give rise to new obligations and potential liability, so care will be required by the industry professionals and contractors involved. As always, any temporary safety measures and necessary remedial works should only be instigated after taking appropriate professional advice from those in the construction sector.

More important for the future, perhaps, may be the need to consider whether certain elements of buildings should have a much longer design life or at least should be the subject of closer and more regular inspection as well as a carefully planned programme of renewal. Some would argue that the problems with RAAC are just further evidence that top quality materials are paramount to achieve long-term building endurance and risk mitigation.

This article was co-written by Lachlan Tait, Trainee Solicitor.

Make an Enquiry

From our offices we serve the whole of Scotland, as well as clients around the world with interests in Scotland. Please complete the form below, and a member of our team will be in touch shortly.

Morton Fraser MacRoberts LLP will use the information you provide to contact you about your inquiry. The information is confidential. For more information on our privacy practices please see our Privacy Notice