Delays in the multi-million-pound construction of new schools in Aberdeen have been blamed on builders being scared to travel to the city due to coronavirus risks.
Council bosses have revealed they had been forced to battle with perceptions the Granite City was “not a safe place” after the local lockdown last year.
At the most recent meeting of the council’s capital programme committee, top officials were pressed for answers on the delays in school building and what might be changed to ensure future projects are not as badly impacted by emergencies.
Year-long delays have been announced in the construction of replacement schools in Milltimber, Torry and Tillydrone.
Construction projects up and down the country have been hit with delays due to the pandemic.
Even after a three-month initial lockdown was lifted, changes in rules around the number of workers allowed within the tight confines of a building site slowed progress.
Covid legacy: builders ‘reluctant’ to come to Aberdeen after last year’s local lockdown
Aberdeen City Council’s chief capital officer, John Wilson, told members about how “reluctant” contractors were to visit the north-east.
He said: “Some of the project tenders came in right at the crux of when that first happened.
“You will appreciate the impact on no work, furloughing of staff, which impacted tender assessments and so on.
“(We were) able to start again, followed Scottish Government guidelines, and then we had a second impact on Aberdeen itself.
“When you build on that, you have a reluctance of contractors to come up to Aberdeen and the risk and fear they have, given the Covid impact.
“And that just continually builds up over time.
“Notwithstanding that, working practices have had to change, again, to comply with Covid (regulations).”
A new primary school in Torry – a development hit not only by the pandemic but the discovery of asbestos too – is also due for a summer 2023 completion, having previously been planned to be up and running at the end of this year.
“But I was trying to get my head around, ideally, if you wanted a school to be finished in summer 2021, when the ideal time to tender the contract would have been and to have it in place?”
He was told schools take roughly between 14 and 18 months to build, dependent on their size.
Council resources boss: Aberdeen not seen ‘as a safe place’ at time of August local lockdown
Council resources director, Steve Whyte, said: “We had gone out to market and we had to step down contractual talks and design talks, etc – it is what it is.
“The long and the short of it is we felt we were going out to the market with appropriate time.
“And as I say, we lost probably six to nine months because of the lockdown, the local lockdown certainly didn’t help.”
Spot on from @StephenFlynnSNP – COVID remains a real and present threat to our health and wellbeing. Scenes like these are dangerous, and could easily result in pubs being closed again – which no one wants. We all have a responsibility here. Please, please everybody #keeptheheid https://t.co/vuDqN9ZJmo
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) August 3, 2020
Furthermore, Mr Whyte branded “commentary” around the city’s August lockdown – preceded by snaking queues of people bustling into pubs and bars – as “unhelpful”.
“The industry certainly did not see Aberdeen as a safe place at that point in time,” he added.
“Again we have also had to build in some of the local factors that have been aired over the last year as well which has made it an extremely difficult process to go forward.
“I think going forward we will always now be caveating any timelines we have around the world now being in a very different place and a different environment.
“And really, we have pushed contractors to deliver the buildings as quickly as they can.”