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Asbestos in Schools

Parliamentary Questions November 2011


PQ 1 Government policy on asbestos removal during school refurbishment

John Mann: To ask the Secretary of State for Education (1) what new schools have been proposed for Bassetlaw through the Priority School Building Programme; and at what cost; (2) how many schools in Bassetlaw with asbestos will not receive funding to deal with it under the Priority School Building Programme.

Mr Gibb: No proposals for brand new schools for Bassetlaw have been submitted for the Priority School Building Programme (PSBP). However, there is an assumption that schools funded through PSPB would need to have at least 70% new build to be viable as privately financed projects—effectively defining them as 'new' schools. The schools in Bassetlaw listed as follows have been submitted for the programme: Hallcroft Infant School, Tuxford Primary School, Dyscarr Primary School, Carr Hill Primary School, Sutton-cum-Lound CE Primary School, Kingston Park Primary School, St Swithun's CE Primary School, Misterton Primary School, Rampton Primary School

Cost information on projects is not yet available. This will be produced in consultation with the schools and local authorities as part of the outline business case development. PSBP aims to address school buildings in the very worst condition. Asbestos containing materials that are maintained in good condition and in accordance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations are not recommended for routine removal.

Comment It would appear that even if a school has a 70% rebuild that the policy is to leave the asbestos in situ. This policy means that generations of staff and pupils will remain at risk. This is in contrast to the policy practiced by DfE for their own offices where the asbestos has been removed. Nottinghamshire County council consider that in a school building such as CLASP, with a significant amount of asbestos in its structure, it more cost effective to replace the building rather than refurbish it. (There are about 3,000 CLASP buildings, most of which are schools. There are 2,000 SCOLA buildings, all of which are schools. 400 Hills Schools and many thousands of similar buildings containing significant amounts of asbestos.)

The contrast between the Department for Education's policy for their own offices, where asbestos is removed during refurbishment and their policy for schools, where it is not, is at this link

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PQ2 Asbestos excluded from the audit of the condition of school buildings

Annette Brooke: To ask the Secretary of State for Education (1) what criteria he used to determine the priorities for the Property Data Survey Programme; (2) whether the Property Data Survey Programme will include any assessment of the condition of asbestos; and if he will make a statement; (3) what recent assessment he has made of the condition of asbestos in school buildings; and what estimate he has made of the costs of (a) managing asbestos in situ and (b) demolishing and rebuilding schools containing asbestos; (4) what assessment he has made of the findings of the report by Nottinghamshire county council on the cost of rebuilding or refurbishing school buildings containing asbestos.

Mr Gibb (22 November 2011]: The Property Data Survey (PDS) Programme will take into account both the condition and the priority of the work to elements of buildings, external areas and playing fields. Condition will be graded on a scale of A to D, where A is classified as good and D as bad. In addition to the condition grade the priority of work will be captured on a scale of 1 to 4, where 1 is urgent work and 4 is work which will be required in the longer term. To minimise burdens we are applying the same condition and priority grading system that has been used by local authorities for asset management planning purposes since 1999. The data collected will be used to provide evidence of the current condition of schools, and enable future maintenance funding allocations to be focused on the buildings with the greatest need. Property data surveys will not include an assessment of asbestos, the responsibility for which currently lies and will remain with local authorities and schools under the Control of Asbestos Regulations. However while carrying out the PDS the surveyor will seek confirmation that the school has carried out their statutory obligations and if not will direct them to the Department's website and relevant guidance.

The responsibility for assessing the condition of asbestos in school buildings lies with the local duty holder for the particular school. We have not made an estimate of the cost of managing asbestos in situ or demolishing and rebuilding schools containing asbestos.

Partnerships for Schools received a report from Nottinghamshire county council, "Issues of Using CLASP to transform learning—Nottinghamshire County Council". This addresses the best value for money approach to refurbishing or rebuilding CLASP schools and includes some consideration of how to deal with asbestos in these buildings. The report showed the high cost of refurbishment of CLASP buildings and that in many cases it is more cost-effective to rebuild than to refurbish and remodel such buildings. We are not aware of another report from Nottinghamshire county council specifically addressing the cost of rebuilding or refurbishing school buildings containing asbestos.

Comment: It is illogical and financially irresponsible to exclude asbestos from the Schools Property Data Survey (PDS) as its presence imposes significant ongoing financial costs in maintaining school buildings, and for many schools it presents one of the greatest costs when the school is refurbished or demolished. It also poses a significant risk to the occupants.

Data from the PDS will be “used to provide evidence of the current condition of schools, and enable future maintenance funding allocations to be focused on the buildings with the greatest need.”

The PDS will include information on the condition of school toilets and the decorative state of the building, fittings and furniture. The PDS survey and data bank will include data on the cost of replacement, minor and major repair of items. Included in the priority grades will be the risks to health and safety. However the PDS specifically excludes asbestos.

One must question the Ministers’ reasons for excluding asbestos. The Asbestos in Schools Group have requested that discussion of the PDS and the policy of leaving asbestos in situ are included on the agenda of the 14th December DfE Asbestos Steering Group meeting.