RAAC at the University of Edinburgh

The University has restricted access to areas within eight buildings as a precautionary measure owing to safety concerns around the use of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC).

Initial inspections have already taken place in each of these buildings, in line with previous guidance on this issue, and no significant concerns have been identified. In light of updated guidance from the UK Government’s Department of Education, however, we have restricted access to the affected areas with immediate effect until we are able to carry out more detailed surveys.

We are very sorry for the disruption this will cause, but we want to be confident that our buildings remain safe for everyone in our community.

None of the affected buildings includes residential accommodation, however, some of the areas do include teaching, laboratory and office spaces. We are looking into appropriate alternative spaces as a matter of urgency so that activities scheduled to take place in these areas can be relocated where possible.

We expect restrictions will remain in place for at least two weeks while additional assessments take place. We are aware that this may affect some Welcome Week activities and we are doing all we can to minimise disruption for all users of the affected areas.

We are in contact with all areas affected by this issue and will continue to keep them updated as more information becomes available.

We will continue to follow all national guidance and advice from the Institution of Structural Engineers in dealing with this matter to ensure our buildings remain safe.

The affected buildings are:

Building Campus Area affected
Appleton Tower George Square Lecture Theatres 4 & 5
The Hunter Building Edinburgh College of Art Level R (all areas)
Dan Rutherford Building King’s Buildings Level 1 (all areas)
James Clerk Maxwell Building King’s Buildings Rear back corner at Data Centre, Front Lecture Theatres and remainder of this curved extension area, 8th floor plus upper plant rooms (9th Floor), LT 3.911, 3.912, 3.913 
Joseph Black Building King’s Buildings Small Decant Block extension at rear of building
The Grant Institute King’s Buildings Rear section of side extension
The Ashworth Building Extension King’s Buildings Rooftop plant areas
Institute of Genetics and Cancer Western General Hospital Rooftop plant room roofs only on Centre Building

What is Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete?

RAAC is a building material that was used in some buildings constructed between the mid-1950s and mid-1990s. It was used in the construction of roofs, wall panels, and sometimes floors.

If properly designed, manufactured, in good condition and with good bearing, RAAC installations are considered safe. However, the panels can creep and deflect over time, and this can be exacerbated by water penetration. 

When was the issue with RAAC first identified?

In 2017, a panel collapsed at a primary school in Kent. No one was injured when this happened. Another panel collapsed in 2019, prompting wider investigations across the UK. These investigations concluded that RAAC was the underlying cause of these building collapses.

In late December 2022, the UK government issued a notice regarding Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) with a guide for estates managers.

The UK Government notice was specific to education premises, requesting that estates managers look at their properties to identify if they had any RAAC in their buildings. It was aimed at organisations based in England but it was responded to in Scotland as well. 

What has the University done about it so far?

In 2018/19 the Estates Department carried out surveys of all of our buildings to identify and record the locations of RAAC panels. Estates engaged structural engineers to assess the condition of any RAAC panel in line with guidance from the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE). The UK Government, Department of Education (DfE) guidance published in December 2022 provided good practical guidance on the identification, risk assessment and management process for RAAC panels. In the absence of sector specific guidance, we have used the DfE guidance as proportionate and relevant to our Estate.   In order to determine a local understanding of the specific issues on our Estate, a programme of assessment for our buildings was being developed at the time of the most recent DfE publication.

What has changed?

On 31 August 2023, the UK Government’s Department for Education publicised new guidance on the use of RAAC in education settings in England. It said that recent cases had caused them to change their assessment of the risk that RAAC poses to building safety and advised building operators to carefully manage areas where RAAC is present whilst further actions are planned.  

This was a significant departure to previous guidance and although our initial assessments have not identified any issues of concern, we have arranged to restrict access to affected areas in a small number of our buildings with immediate effect as a precautionary measure while we undertake further assessment and await updated guidance from the Institution of Structural Engineers, Scottish Government and Higher Education bodies. 

How long will the buildings be restricted for?

We hope to complete further assessments within the next two weeks, however, this will require support from specialist structural engineers, who are in high demand at the moment. If any issues are identified restricted access will continue while we undertake remedial works. It is therefore not possible to say exactly how long these areas will be closed. We will provide regular updates for everyone affected by this issue.

Is it possible to get access to the affected areas to retrieve items?

We understand that some people may need access to collect items important to their work and we are organising controlled access accordingly.