Market Halls and RAAC: Oh no – Here we go again….

Home » Market Halls and RAAC: Oh no – Here we go again….

Every 10 years or so another product defect emerges to plague building owners. The latest is RAAC (Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete). Structural failures in school roofs built of RAAC in the 1970’s and 1980’s is bad news for budget-stricken Education Authorities – and the Daily Mail is on the case. Enough said. This is a repeat of the Asbestos, GluLam beams and High Alumina Cement crises we’ve seen before and it is not new news – the Local Government Association, Building Research Establishment and Institution of Structural Engineers have been warning about RAAC for many years. Take a look at the LGA website:

The designers of 1970’s Shopping Centres and Market Halls were very enthusiastic about RAAC at that time.  RAAC planks were a great solution as roof spans for large buildings. They were made from foamed concrete poured into moulds over mesh steel. Autoclaving the mould made them quick and cheap to produce and the foamy concrete made them far lighter than solid cast concrete slabs. They were just the job for a new roof – add insulation and a nice weatherproof covering and there you have it. The trouble was that RAAC had an estimated design life of about 30 years – more if properly maintained but less if neglected.

As my wonderfully diligent Building Surveyor colleague Vijay says: ‘Why doesn’t anyone ever read the specification?’. There’s nothing he likes more than poking around in dark corners to remind everyone materials have a finite design life. Roofs and drains and plumbing services need maintenance to extend their design life. His recommendations for planned maintenance with advisories from the Building Research Centre keeps Clients awake at night.

There are always practical solutions to sort any problems but who pays? If a privately-owned Shopping Centre with a Market Hall contains RAAC the Lawyers will start reviewing the headlease. That was not an uncommon arrangement for a 1970’s town centre redevelopment where Councils often retained the freehold and a headrent in return for assembling the site. That often included a sublease of the Market Hall back to the Council who then sublet to the Traders. Where does repairing liability rest for an ‘inherent defect’? – with the freehold or headlease or the sublease? And can a product or design warranty be called upon? – both are pretty unlikely.

It’s trickier still when the Market Hall or Shopping Centre is sublet to Tenants. Is there a so-called sinking fund available to cover the cost of remedials (probably not) or could the costs be recovered via a communal service charge levied on Tenants? Try getting that one past a Market Traders Association. As for lodging an insurance claim to pay for an inherent defect – well good luck.

But look on the bright side. If you’re the owner of a Shopping Centre which includes an RAAC-affected Market Hall it is probably under-occupied. This could be an excellent opportunity to relocate the Market into an empty shop (a Wilko?) while the Lawyers sort out a deal with the Council. Relocation could be good news for everyone, not just for footfall in the Centre and the Market Traders.