DEFRA closes parts of two buildings due to RAAC concerns

DEFRA has closed “certain parts” of two of its buildings due to safety concerns from Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC), with the department’s permanent secretary telling MPs that following an initial assessment surveyors are looking at 43 buildings “further”.

Following the recent closure of over 100 schools due to safety concerns from the use of RAAC, the focus has now turned to the other public buildings that may also be affected. 

RAAC is a building material that was widely used in the public building sector from the 1950s to the 1980s before the potential for damage was noted and the material fell out of use. However, government guidance highlighted that lingering RAAC may be an urgent concern in 2021. 

In a Public Affairs Committee (PAC) meeting yesterday (11 September), Tamara Finkelstein, permanent secretary at DEFRA, told MPs that of the 505 “relevant buildings”, DEFRA has gone through 85% of those at stage one and have found 43 buildings that “we want to have a look at further”. 

“We need more information on 15% of them, mainly where they have landlords from whom we need more information”, Finkelstein told the committee. 

“There are only two buildings where we have had to take some action to not use certain parts of them, so we have done that, then with the ones where we have found RAAC we are going to the next stage. We are doing that under the guidance of the Institution of Structural Engineers”, she said.  

Specifically, Finkelstein said that of the 144 buildings at DEFRA's Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) laboratories in Weybridge, Surrey, 19 of them are among the 43 that are being investigated.

“A lot of those do not have people actively in them a lot of the time. They are some of our depos, farm buildings and so on. I am pretty confident from what I understand that we would be able to mitigate these without huge impact”, Finkelstein said. 

When asked if any of these buildings are “mission critical”, or what closing them would mean for DEFRA’s work, Finkelstein said that the department still needs to look at this, but said: “I have not been made aware that we have a worry about a building that will be critical”.