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Why was RAAC so popular?

Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) gained prominence between the 1950s and 1990s as a cost-effective, lightweight material for construction. It was considered ideal for the quick erection of schools, hospitals, and other public buildings. However, a critical downside is that RAAC has a limited shelf-life of up to 30 years. Its highly permeable nature allows for water ingress, which further weakens the steel reinforcement within, making it a risk in 2023.

This limited shelf-life becomes even more problematic when RAAC is used in roofs or other structures exposed to moisture.

RAAC beyond schools

While the failing roof of a primary school in 2018 shed light on the hazards of RAAC in educational settings, the issues with RAAC are not confined to education settings alone. 

The NHS and even the judiciary system have felt the impact. Earlier this month, Harrow Crown Court had to announce that it is temporarily closing due to the discovery of RAAC, meaning serious criminal Court cases are being diverted or possibly postponed, adding another layer of strain on already burdened public facilities.

Transparency in communication and funding gaps

Recent data from the National Audit Office is concerning. By May 2023, only 86% of the schools identified as being at risk had responded to a Department for Education (DfE) questionnaire about the presence of RAAC. Worryingly, 58% had either not responded or had failed to complete identification work. This brings us to a critical issue: the lack of a centralized approach to data collection and the reliance on self-reporting from schools. Estate managers should collectively call for a more centralized, robust system for better governance.

The lack of adequate funding exacerbates the issue. The Office of Government Property estimated that best-practice maintenance of school estates would require £7.1 billion a year. However, DfE has received significantly less funding for school buildings than it estimated it needed, spending an average of just £2.3 billion a year between 2016-2023. The underfunding has led to maintenance delays and a decline in the overall condition of school buildings.

Moving forward

Given the above complexities, estate managers in education should consider multiple calls to action.

Immediate response required

National Audit Office data from May 2023 reveals that around 8,600 schools either haven't responded, completed necessary work, or are unaware of the RAAC risks. Immediate attention is imperative from those settings yet to respond via the DfE Capital Portal.

Familiarization with DfE guidance

DfE has rolled out guidelines for identifying and dealing with RAAC.  Estate managers should familiarise themselves with this guidance.

Consult qualified experts

If RAAC is suspected or confirmed, immediately seek guidance from qualified building surveyors or structural engineers specialized in RAAC.

Comprehensive material audits

Given the funding constraints, a thorough audit of building materials, especially those past their shelf life, becomes critical.

Regular inspections

Routine professional inspections can pre-emptively identify potential issues, ensuring safety and mitigating risks.

Cross-industry collaboration

In a climate of restricted funding across the public sector, pooling knowledge and resources across sectors can lead to more efficient solutions.

Prioritize maintenance

Considering DfE’s funding has primarily focused on repair and maintenance, estate managers must wisely allocate resources for effective long-term building management.

The prevalence of RAAC serves as a stark reminder of what can go awry when cost-effective solutions are prioritised over long-term sustainability. The current crisis demonstrates the urgent need for a more proactive, organized, and cross-industry approach to managing educational estates. The severe underfunding situation and the limitations in the self-reporting system further stress the importance of collective action.

Speak to a construction solicitor

If you have concerns regarding RAAC or require advice relating to a construction issue, our construction law team led by Partner Phil Caton, will be happy to assist you.

To contact our construction lawyers directly, please complete the online enquiry form below.

Key Contact

Phil Caton

Phil Caton

Construction Law Partner

Phil is a Partner at the firm who specialises in both transactional and contentious construction matters.

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