On August 31st, it was revealed that around 105 schools have had to be closed or had classrooms taken out of use due to Reinforced Autoclaved Concrete (RAAC). This has sparked a media storm, with questions raised about Government policy and the implications of the problem for public safety.
The news has been devastating for the schools affected, leading teachers, parents and students to ask how something like this could have been overlooked. Experts have discussed the poor performance of the material and the risk of sudden collapse.
In May 2022, a guide was published by the IStructE and representatives from Loughborough University, which advised on the identification, characteristics and risks associated with RAAC and the recommended repair or remedial action. Then, in November of the same year, the Office of Government Property issued a letter to departments, local authorities and other arm’s length bodies, warning them of the dangers of RAAC.
NAO statistics show that there are 21600 school buildings in England, 156 of which have been identified as containing RAAC, and 105 of those have been earmarked for urgent action. This suggests that only 0.75% of the total are affected. With regards to the healthcare estate, seven hospitals have been found to be unsound and 34 more contain RAAC.
The wider building stock may also contain RAAC, with 335,000 offices, 476,000 shops and 162,000 hospitality buildings potentially at risk. However, with no registers or sources of information to identify the use of the product, it is up to owners, operators, tenants and landlords to establish the materials used in construction.
Identification is straightforward when the material is exposed, but it may be concealed by suspended or fixed ceilings or other finishes, requiring removal or the formation of access panels. Gary Strong, RICS Global Building Standards Director, has echoed the view that cases in housing are rare.
The mere existence of RAAC does not necessarily mean significant structural works or alterations are needed, but it does mean that a careful structural and durability assessment is needed, which would typically demand engineering advice.
Watts has recognised itself as one of the UK’s leading independent building surveying led property and construction consultancies and is well placed to provide appropriate professional guidance on audit measures prior to remedial action in order to make buildings and those occupying them safe.