In late August 2023, the Department for Education ("DfE") made the shock announcement that more than 150 schools in England & Wales were facing immediate closure. Coming one week before the start of term, this caused considerable panic amongst parents and teachers alike. The reason for the drastic measure? RAAC
What is RAAC?
Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete ("RAAC") is a cheap, lightweight form of concrete used extensively in buildings constructed from the 1950s to the mid-1980s. It is particularly common in buildings with flat roofs.
Why is there concern about RAAC?
Given the ubiquity of RAAC for buildings constructed over four decades and doubts about their continued integrity, RAAC poses a severe risk to the UK's built environment.
There have been several instances of RAAC roofs suddenly falling in and it is now well-established that the integrity of RAAC structures declines significantly after 40 years.
This was dramatically illustrated in July 2018 when the roof of Singlewell Primary School in Kent collapsed suddenly and unexpectedly, causing considerable damage to the staff room, toilets, ICT equipment, and administration area. There were no injuries, but only because the collapse happened to come at the weekend when the school was empty.
There is a real risk that any building with RAAC construction could suffer a similar incident. As the Local Government Association noted "RAAC is now life-expired and liable to collapse…with little to no notice."
There is no register of buildings utilising RAAC construction but it is known to be widespread in the public sector – including schools, hospitals, fire stations, defence installations, and even the Palace of Westminster. Universities and the courts service have been forced to close buildings under their management. In May 2023 the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care told Parliament that seven hospitals in England would not be safe to operate beyond 2030 due to the presence of RAAC.
It is likely that the risk of RAAC will have a significant impact on the property insurance markets and may lead to increases in premiums over the next renewal cycle.
What do you need to do?
If you are concerned that any building you are responsible for contains RAAC, you should take the following actions:
- Review your existing portfolio to identify the volume and extent of RAAC in your properties. It will likely be necessary to instruct experts to carry out a risk assessment of affected properties.
- Take immediate steps to mitigate the health & safety risks posed by RAAC. This may involve closing certain premises, transitioning commercial operations to a remote/hybrid structure, or finding alternative premises for staff and customers.
- Develop strategies to appropriately manage the risks posed by RAAC. Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has promised to 'spend what it takes' to tackle the problem, so it can be expected that central government funding will be made available.
If you are concerned about RAAC in your properties please contact our Construction & Infrastructure team
Author: James Callender