'Poorly built' and 'poorly managed': Inquiry finds multiple failings in leaky Sandal Magna school roof saga over 15 years

An independent inquiry into how a defective school building was managed has found multiple failings across a 15 year period.

Wednesday, 14th July 2021, 4:09 pm

The leaky roof at Sandal Magna Primary School in Wakefield has repeatedly forced pupils out of the classroom, despite it only being built in 2010. Attempts to fix it have been constantly hit by setbacks and cost taxpayers millions.

A report by Anthony Collins Solicitors was critical of Wakefield Council and a number of the contractors involved with the building and said there were lessons to be learnt.

The inquiry found that the school structure was "poorly built" and the building project "poorly managed" and that the council could have scrutinised their contractors better.

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The inquiry into how the school building, put up in 2010, was managed, was set up earlier this year.

The authority was also criticised for being slow to discover the full extent of the defects and deciding to replace the roof altogether, although the report said that the council's approach at a number of different points was "reasonable".

The leader of Wakefield's Opposition Conservative group, Nadeem Ahmed, said the report made for "grim reading" and called on the authority to act "more transparently" to avoid a repeat.

The inquiry was commissioned by council leader Denise Jeffery earlier this year days after it was revealed that one contractor was being paid £17,500 a week by the council, despite being unable to do any repair work on site.

The inquiry found that warnings about the roof's design were first raised in 2009, while the school was being built, in an angry email exchange between architects SWA and builders Allenbuild.

Coun Jeffery said she accepted the report's findings.

Allenbuild claimed that SWA, "Have been trying to drive us into building bad practice with roof detailing with the potential to let water in".

A site report one month later noted how timber wall panels had been damaged by rainwater.

The inquiry said the approach by the architects was "quirky" and "unorthodox" and that the builders struggled with its "complicated" design.

Despite being "inexperienced" in building schools, the report said that the council's then chief executive "made it clear SWA was the architect he wanted to build the school".

Tory group leader Nadeem Ahmed was heavily critical of the council, following the report's publication.

The inquiry found there was poor communication and fractured relationships between SWA, Allenbuild and project managers NPS, which resulted in numerous changes and delays.

In 2014 further defects were found within the roof.

An assessment that year by the council blamed "poor build quality" and "bad workmanship" for the leaky roof, which was "further compounded by poor repairs and suspect maintenance".

But the inquiry said the council then delayed carrying out extensive surveys on the building until 2017, at which point even more problems were discovered. The damage was later deemed so severe it was decided to replace the roof altogether, but only in 2019.

The inquiry's leaders said they, "Consider that the council could have acted sooner to replace the roof."

The report further suggested that the council's contract with roofing firm McConnell, which saw them pay out £430,000 across six months when work was halted in 2020, was not "appropriate".

The report said that the deal should have been amended to give the taxpayer more protection in case delays occurred. It recommended the council make such changes to future contracts.

It added however that the council had managed the contract itself and that it "did everything that it could to mitigate the financial impact of the delay once it became apparent".

But in its overall conclusions, the report's authors said budgets for other schools could be hit by all the additional costs relating to Sandal Magna.

Responding to the report, council leader Denise Jeffery said: "We welcome and accept the findings of this report and we can now set out our action plan to address the issues and ensure that these steps are taken to improve any future projects of this size.

"There are lessons to be learnt from this report, which is why it was vitally important to carry out this full independent enquiry to make sure we learn from these going forward and I am pleased we were able to get this carried out quickly.

"I also welcome the endorsement of the decisive action we took earlier in the year to quickly and responsibly remedy this situation.”

But Conservative group leader Coun Ahmed was heavily critical of the local authority and said other schools would "now be at the mercy of this council's incredible negligence".

He said: "This truly shocking situation with regards Sandal Magna School sends a shiver down the spine and shines a light yet again on the breathtaking incompetence of Wakefield's Labour-run council.

"A litany of failure has been identified from leaky roofs to rot and decay all having been addressed leading to spiralling costs.

"We call on this council to act more openly, more transparently to stop the closed shop approach and work with all members to ensure this never happens again.

"The Conservative group will continue to champion value for money and to address this council's addiction to incompetence and waste. Wakefield Labour really must do better."

The inquiry will be discussed at a full council meeting next Wednesday.

Local Democracy Reporting Service