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‘We’re in Raac limbo too’: Aberdeen housing chief opens up on council shortage of ‘the right replacement homes’

Housing convener Miranda Radley discusses the latest on the Torry Raac crisis and answers residents' concerns.

Aberdeen City Council's housing convener Miranda Radley addresses Raac concerns. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson
Aberdeen City Council's housing convener Miranda Radley addresses Raac concerns. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Aberdeen’s housing chief admits the council is stuck in “limbo” – awaiting answers just like the Torry residents living under Raac-ridden roofs.

Confronted with the stories of tenants and homeowners left suicidal at the stress of the mass evacuation of homes in Balnagask, housing convener Miranda Radley pledged to “signpost” those suffering through the uncertainty.

Aberdeen City Council is working to rehome people living in 299 of its homes which have were built with the potentially dangerous reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac).

The lightweight material has been found in the roofs of almost 500 properties around Balnagask, including former council housing since sold to private owners.

Scaffolding and workers can be seen at properties on Balnagask Road. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

In a sit-down interview, SNP housing convener Miranda Radley provided the very latest on the evacuation, and was faced with the concerns of Torry residents we have heard from.

In the interview, Ms Radley reveals:

  • Blindsided council chiefs realised they don’t have the “right” homes tenants need
  • With five times as many  rehoming offers rejected as accepted, the council is “on track”
  • Will the council force residents from their Balnagask homes, if they refuse to leave despite the Raac?
  • And the housing convener’s offer to lead a public meeting in Torry – though she “doesn’t know anything more than anyone else”

When should Torry residents get their first offers by?

Between emails, calls and home visits, Aberdeen City Council says there have been more than 1,300 contacts with Raac-affected residents.

Marischal College bosses want every tenant to have had a first offer of alternative accommodation by the end of summer.

But Ms Radley accepts the process will take some time.

A worker checks out a property on Balnagask Road. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

She said: “We are working with tenants on an individual basis so every single case will be different.

“It’s not a one-size fits all, we’re not putting everyone into the first property that becomes available because it might not fit their needs.

“We are trying to work with tenants on that and also around the expectation management and making sure they are aware of the key milestones within their own journey.”

Why is the council taking so long to provide offers?

Torry residents have previously told The Press and Journal that they are still waiting for their initial offer up to six weeks after their meeting with a housing officer.

But Ms Radley said there was a reason behind these lengthy delays.

She explained: “It might be that a four-bedroom is needed and we’ve not got something in the area that suits them, or we’ve not got the ground floor access that they need.”

The housing convener said the council was working hard to match appropriate properties with tenants.

Balnagask homeowners have been protesting the Aberdeen City Council headquarters to ensure their voices are heard. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

“They might not have had an offer yet because we’ve not got a property available that suits their needs,” Ms Radley said.

“But as soon as one is available, we will get in touch with them and make sure the offer is made.”

The SNP housing boss, flanked by senior officials overseeing the rehoming operation, is aware many parents feel unsure which school their children will be attending in the future.

However, she promises the council will work to offer them certainty ahead of the new term and has pledged to fund school transport costs.

Council didn’t have ‘right stock’ for tenants

Aberdeen City Council has almost 23,000 properties in its portfolio of various sizes.

Due to this massive stock, local authority bosses it had enough homes to deal with the crisis.

However, the housing convener admitted that the process hasn’t been as easy as bosses initially thought.

Aberdeen City Council housing convener Miranda Radley. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

She explained: “As we’ve worked through the conversations with tenants, we maybe don’t have the right stock identified for the circumstances.

“There is quite a lot of larger properties needed that we didn’t know about so we will work through that. But that all takes time.”

Properties are frequently returned to the council after tenants move out and this process will also influence the timescales of the offer process.

“We never know what’s going to come back to us in a week,” Ms Radley said.

“But if it fits the needs of someone within a Raac property, we will see what we can do.”

Aberdeen City Council is ‘on track’ with the Torry Raac rehoming

At the latest count, 129 offers have been made to council tenants.

Only eight have been accepted while 40 have been refused.

So is the council happy with the progress made so far?

Miranda Radley feels the council is “on track” with the rehousing process. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

“I think we are pretty on track from where I was expecting to be,” Ms Radley said.

“The tenant engagement has been really positive.

“All of our tenants have engaged really well and we’ve had open and honest conversations around what their expectations are for a move.”

Offers won’t be like-for-like

Aberdeen’s housing convener said the local authority is “trying its best” to match people with the right properties.

But despite the huge official effort, the outcome may not be what either the council or tenants want.

Ms Radley said: “Sometimes an area might not be what they wanted or expected to be offered so it’s about engaging with them and making sure we provide the most appropriate offer.

“We need to be quite clear that if you are in a three-bedroom property but only eligible for a one-bedroom, we will only be able to offer a one-bed property.”

Some of the Balnagask homes affected by Raac. Image: Alastair Gossip/DC Thomson

“It is based on housing need rather than what they’ve currently got.”

But tenants need to be careful that they choose the best offer for them.

If they refuse their second choice, they will not be able to return to their previously refused offer as the home will have been made available to someone else on the Raac list.

And should that initial property be refused by another that second tenant, it will be returned to the citywide general housing list available to all prospective tenants.

Will tenants be forced out of their homes?

But what will happen to those who refuse to leave? Will they be forced from their homes?

Housing convener Ms Radley hopes the council can reach mutual agreement with tenants.

“It’s about working with them,” she said.

“Let’s see if there is a property in Torry that might be appropriate for them.”

Raac has been found in properties on Balnagask Road. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Ms Radley continued: “We don’t know what is happening with the site yet, but I would say we’re not doing this just to move people.

“These properties are high risk but not critical.

“We are not moving people out straight away. But we are doing this because of a real health and safety need.”

She added: “I think the overwhelming feeling is that people would like to stay in Torry but we have limitations with our stock and the available properties that there are.”

‘Stressed, anxious and suicidal’ Raac residents

Residents affected by the ongoing Raac uncertainty have admitted they are struggling with their mental health.

Many have complained of the “stress and anxiety”.

Others has raised concerns that people were “not coping at all” with the crisis – and it could cost lives.

The Samaritans are there to help for those struggling, 365 days a year – here’s how to contact them. 

The council’s answer?

But what Ms Radley make of claims Torry’s Raac residents don’t feel the council is doing enough to support them?

Owners of former council homes in Balnagask in Torry are demanding help to deal with the Raac crisis. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson
Owners of former council homes in Balnagask in Torry are demanding help to deal with the Raac crisis. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

“With regards to mental health, we will signpost them on to the appropriate agencies, especially if someone is feeling suicidal,” she replied.

“If an individual is needing additional support we will try our best to provide that.”

The council is also looking to see if help can be given to people who are moving to new communities to ensure their transition is as easy as possible.

What about private tenants and homeowners?

Ms Radley said the council would need to wait for reports on the the way forward, including potential demolition or remedial work, before it can address private owners and tenants.

The local authority has been in contact with those affected, she said.

Miranda Radley. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

She explained: “We have just sent them a letter outlining some of the key points that have been brought up over the past few weeks and hopefully that has provided them with some clarity.

“We have also engaged with the Association of British Insurers and the banking trade body UK Finance on what options are available but we are limited in what we can do.”

She added: “We are working as closely as we can with private owners and tenants to provide them with support as we can.”

Raac evictions ‘not a conspiracy’

Many tenants in Torry believe the decision to mass evict residents is partly due to the £420 million South Harbour expansion works.

This belief has only been fueled further by the council’s link road project.

But Ms Radley was quick to dispel these rumours.

Port of Aberdeen South Harbour.
The Port of Aberdeen’s £420 million South Harbour expansion. Image: Port of Aberdeen

“It’s absolutely not a ‘conspiracy’, we would not be doing this if there wasn’t a real health and safety risk,” she stated.

“We would never want to disrupt tenants in their own homes, it just is something we would not do at all.

“I know there have been several ‘conspiracies’ going around but it definitely isn’t.”

Why did the council take so long to address Raac?

The Balnagask buildings were built in the mid 1960s, meaning it is now approaching 60 years that the Raac roofs have been in place.

Some of the homes have had pitched roofs and other additions since to prolong their life.

But council housing bosses believe it is now at the stage where the potentially “crumbly” concrete needs replaced due to its failings elsewhere.

A close-up shot of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete, better known as RAAC

Ms Radley made it clear that the council decided to permanently rehome residents as the process would take years to complete, not months.

“We made the commitment that should we decide to rebuild properties on the site and should they meet the needs, we will give the people who moved out first refusal.

“But that is away down the road with regards to the options appraisal and that whole process.”

Council would ‘never say no’ to additional funding

Aberdeen City Council has set aside £3 million to move tenants from Raac-affected council properties.

But the local authority has reached out for additional financial help.

The SNP councillor has written to both the UK and Scottish Government as it is estimated the issue will cost “tens of millions” to fix.

Flat roofs are more likely to contain Raac, which has been found in nearly 300 council properties in Balnagask in Torry. Image: Alastair Gossip/DC Thomson
Flat roofs are more likely to contain Raac, which has been found in nearly 300 council properties in Balnagask in Torry. Image: Alastair Gossip/DC Thomson

Ms Radley confirmed the SNP Scottish Government has committed to work with the council while officials assess the options.

“We can have a conversation once we have a bit more of a definite,” the councillor added.

“We don’t know what the final costs are.”

The process, aimed at reviewing all the possible action that can be taken to deal with the Raac is due to conclude before the end of August.

Potential outcomes for the Balnagask homes could include remedial works or even demolition.

Rishi Sunak was quick to tell The P&J there would be no extra cash from the UK Government to help Aberdonians.

Ms Radley said the local authority would “never say no” to any extra funding from any source.

Housing chief ‘more than happy’ to speak to tenants

Ms Radley and council co-leader Christian Allard, an SNP Torry councillor, have been out to Balnagask to speak to people impacted by Raac.

“There is a lot of strong feeling out in Torry about this issue and it’s not just the people who are in the affected properties, it’s the whole community,” she said.

Miranda Radley. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

“Torry is a really close-knit community and any disruption to that is felt by everyone.”

But now the housing chief has committed to hosting a public surgery or meeting if there was demand from tenants.

She said: “I don’t know anything more than anyone else does, we are in a limbo situation at the moment while we wait for the options appraisal to come back.

“But if there is a need for a surgery, I’m more than happy to do it.”