'˜Dirty scandal' puts Milton Keynes Council staff and visitors at risk

The civic offices building has been officially declared a health risk because its air cooling system has not been cleaned for 40 YEARS.

Thursday, 28th July 2016, 10:08 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 4:31 pm

Nobody knows why the pipes have been left to build up four decades’ worth of bugs, bacteria and detritus.

But the outcome is that the whole system needs to be ripped out and replaced - at a cost of £2.6m.

“Until we do this there is a real, but small risk, to the health and safety of people visiting or working in the civic offices,” said cabinet member for resources, Labour councillor Rob Middleton (pictured).

The problem came to light when an inspection of the air conditioning system was ordered as part of an £8m refurbishment plan for the civic offices.

“The engineers said there was no sign that any cleaning of the pipes and ducts had taken place since the system was installed 40 years ago,” said Rob.

“To be honest, it makes my skin crawl to think how dirty they must be,” he admitted.

To make matters worse, the same pipes are used as a heating system to pump out warm air in the winter. This makes them the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

Councillors voted unanimously on Tuesday night to replace the current system as soon as possible.

“We have no choice. It is imperative that we put this right,” said Rob (pictured).

A fresh air option of doing without air conditioning and opening windows instead has been ruled out because only a few windows in the building open. Most are fixed in place and the cost of replacing them with opening windows would be sky high.

The dirty pipe scandal could mean MK council has Sick Building Syndrome - a term used when staff suffer health problems through no obvious illness or reason.

Air from outside is pumped into the plant room at the civic offices. This is then cooled (or heated in winter) and pumped through a labyrinth of pipes throughout the giant building.

The cost of replacing the giant system will be added on to the general refurbishment bill - making a total of almost £11m.

Labour say the revamp of the civic offices is an “investment” as technology and workspaces will be updated to enable many staff can work remotely.

The civic offices would therefore be a base for twice as many staff.

This means the council could close its second main office, which is in Saxon Court, and rent it out to boost its annual budget. The council’s temporary office space in Station Quare would also be relinquished.

But the Tories are dubious and say the plan could backfire and waste cash if there is no market for the rented space.

“I’m concerned about the level of spend and whether this represents value for money at a time when the council is struggling to maintain even basic services to taxpayers,” said Conservative group leader Edith Bald.

“I question whether this makes sense at a time when the council can’t even house the homeless and is struggling with school place funding,” she added.