At £220m, is Fisher’s Folly the most costly council HQ ever?

According to figures presented at last night’s Croydon Council cabinet meeting, Fisher’s Folly, the new council office building which some people insist on calling Bernard Weatherill House, will cost Council Tax-payers a scandalous £85 million more than even the gloomiest multi-million-pound estimates had suggested.

Fisher's Folly, aka Bernard Weatherill House: the money could have been spent on real priorities

Fisher’s Folly, aka Bernard Weatherill House: the money could have been spent on real priorities

“Somehow, we will have to deal with this, and Croydon tax-payers will be paying for it over the next 25 years,” Labour councillor Simon Hall, the new administration’s spokesman on the borough’s finances, told the cabinet meeting.

The £85 million additional cost is from the interest to be paid on money borrowed to build the glass palace. This is in addition to what we now know to be the £133.7 million price tag for the vanity project that is Fisher’s Folly. It’s no wonder the out-going Tory council tried for so long to keep the cost of the building a secret.

At nearly £220 million in total, it must make Croydon’s new offices the most expensive council offices in the history of mankind.

It is just over a month since Labour won control of Croydon Town Hall at the local elections. Since then, bit by bit, ever more troubling evidence of crass mismanagement of the borough’s affairs over the previous eight years under Tory control are emerging. And while the council’s political leadership must take much responsibility, the executive officers on the council, including the long-time finance director Nathan Elvery, also need to have their conduct scrutinised more than ever before.

Croydon Tories' leader Mike Fisher: in his own words, has left the council with a "black hole of debt"

Croydon Tories’ defeated leader Mike Fisher: in his own words, he has left the council with a “black hole of debt”

The “legacy” of the outgoing Conservative administration, which from 2006 was led by Shirley councillor Mike Fisher, with Jon Rouse, his choice as CEO, pulling the strings, is a mountain of debt which the Tories had budgeted would reach £1 billion by 2016-2017.

The £85 million revealed in Hall’s report to cabinet last night (the report can be read here, under July Financial Review) could be a significant part of what Fisher meant when he referred, darkly, to a “£100 million black hole of debt” in the days after his election defeat. It was not possible to confirm this with the erstwhile Tory leader. Fisher did not bother to attend last night’s cabinet meeting. But then, not much has been seen of Fisher and other senior Croydon Tories at council meetings since their election defeat.

The development of “BWH” is part of the CCURV – the controversial property speculation joint venture between developers John Laing and Croydon Council set up under Rouse and the Tories. The details of the CCURV agreement were always a closely guarded secret when Fisher had control of the Town Hall, but the new council leader, Labour’s Tony Newman, promised to “blow open the books” after the local elections.

Calls for such openness about the handling of public money and property will surely only grow louder after the discovery of this latest multi-million-pound scandal.

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8 Responses to At £220m, is Fisher’s Folly the most costly council HQ ever?

  1. mraemiller says:

    If part of the CCURV contract includes secrecy clauses signed by Mr Fisher and Mr Rouse where does that leave Mr Tony Newman? Is it legally possible for administrations in the present to sign contracts that apply a burden of secrecy on future administrations? What if say Mr Newman can technically tell us what the terms of the CCURV are but the dissemination of that information is a breach on contract leaving the council its self open to civil litigation? Does anyone know the law here?

  2. Nick Davies says:

    Does anyone know how much it would raise if it were sold, or how much rental income it would bring in?

    I’ve always said that there’s no need for council departments to be consolidated in the same building, and they should be distributed around the communities they serve. Put education in Thornton Heath, housing in New Addington and so forth. You don’t need a concrete and glass monster, you can bring some work to run down areas, and the more senior staff might become more aware of who they exist for.

    • Councillor Hall spoke last night of how he and officers will be looking to lease out parts of the Folly to generate income from this financial albatross.

      The problem is, they are putting office space into an already crowded market in central Croydon, with more offices to come when Hammersfield unleashes its wonderful scheme on the town centre. Remember the millions lost by the council when it bought Davis House (through CCURV) and tried to operate as a commercial office lettings agent?

      Hall and his colleagues may be working hard, but only to try to make the best of a very bad situation that they’ve been handed.

  3. tomvoute says:

    Just seeing this building from the outside shows that it is already way out of date before it was even completed. In an age of increasing global warming – i.e. greater temprature extremes – you don’t design buildings which are inside like an unbearable greenhouse in hot sunshine and cost tons of money in airconditioning to remain habitable and in cold weather it will have trremendous heat losses from all that glass surface. . And then there’s the cost of regular window cleaning. of all that glass…. I would love to see the brief the architect was given – or was it one of those off the shelf “design and build” jobs? When is Croydon going to make into to the 21st century in its architecture?

    • Maybe you could do more research than just looking at it from the outside. Just because a building has a glass facade doesn’t make it energy intensive. In fact it’s rated as BREEAM Excellent, and has a variety of passive design measures included which maintain comfortable interior conditions.

  4. Using the figures in the article interest is being paid at 4.3%. Not sure if that is good value in the current market and is it variable?

  5. davidcallam says:

    Can elected councillors and senior executives commit tax payers to debts of this kind? Is there no mechanism for surcharging those responsible?

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