Fife to ‘learn lessons’ after cladding in tower blocks swapped a decade ago

More details about the multi million £ removal of cladding in two of Fife Council’s high rise tower blocks has come forward and councillors told there are “an awful lot of lessons to be learned.”
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The current replacement work at Methil’s Swan and Memorial Court flat blocks all stems back to an undocumented change in the type of cladding product used in a 2012-13 improvement project.

A People and Communities Scrutiny committee report from Thursday set out the background to the works that took place a decade ago and outlines some of the lessons learned from the experience.

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In October, the Cabinet Committee rubber stamped a £4.5 million programme of safety improvement for the council owned flats after a review suggested the external wall insulation used on the buildings in 2012 and 2013 potentially posed a higher risk. They were the first tower blocks in Fife to be improved with External Wall Insulation cladding in 2012 and 2013.

Swan and Memorial Court in Methil (Pic: Fife Council)Swan and Memorial Court in Methil (Pic: Fife Council)
Swan and Memorial Court in Methil (Pic: Fife Council)

However, Thursday's scrutiny committee report revealed that the cladding that was ultimately used during those original recladding works is not the type of cladding originally specified in drawings and plans. The product type had been altered later by the contractor.

“Though similar in type, it is now evident that though the originally specified cladding material did not require fire barriers, the substitute material did,” the committee report stated.

Councillors were told here was no written record or paper trail explaining why the change was made.

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“Unfortunately with the passage of time individuals involved with the project are no longer in the employ of the council and as a consequence there is a degree of conjecture and assumption in the review of events,” the committee was told.

Allan Paul, head of property services, explained that changing products for projects is not an unusual or rare occurrence - nor is it about saving money.

“When we commit to a piece of work, we commit to a confined timescale, and not all products suit that timescale. It’s not uncommon to vary product types,” he said. “But the processes of changing cladding products should have been fully documented and the consequences of the variation should have been fully thought through. I’m not sure that happened in this case, and no one is more concerned about that than me, but it is a fact that we’ve not sought to hide.”

Mr Paul continued: “We need to do better, but I can reassure councillors that the practices that existed at the time are not what we use today, but we can’t just turn back the clock of time. I’m sure the decisions that were made were made for a good reason at the time, but seen in 2023 I think they were deficient.”

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Mr Paul said there were an “awful lot of lessons” to be learned from the experience.

“To avoid a repetition. all project staff are to be reminded of the importance of ensuring substitute materials are fully assessed and performance specification evidenced based before agreeing to substitutes. Written records of all such variations must be retained on file. The case will be highlighted in future staff training,” the committee reported stated.

Property and housing services have agreed to bring an update back to committee sometime in the new year.