Fisher’s Folly, the glass palace that is our council’s headquarters which opened just over a year ago and which cost the borough’s Council Tax-payers’ £144 million, was more expensive to build than The Shard.
That’s the conclusion reached by a former senior council officer and trained civil engineer through a simple comparison of the building costs on key office projects in London.
The calculations strongly suggests that Croydon tax-payers have been overcharged for the council building by more than £100 million.
Yet the council’s new leadership, headed by Tony Newman, refuses to have an independent audit into whether the building represents best value for the borough, or to fathom how it managed to cost nearly four times the going rate for building offices in London.
“The cost of building Bernard Weatherill House works out at £6,280 per square metre, based on 22,300 square metres and a cost of £140 million,” said David Wickens, who worked at Croydon Council for more than 20 years, including having a key role in the development of the Tramlink network through the town.
“Published indices suggest that a target price for London offices is between £1,400 and £2,000 per square metre. Even at the top end of that range, that suggests that the council offices could have been built for less than £45 million – or nearly £100 million less than Croydon is paying for them,” Wickens said.
“One has to be wary of indices, as each scheme is different, but there seems to be a pattern here. Are the public getting a bad deal?”
Certainly, before May’s local elections, Newman and the local Labour group were convinced that residents were getting a bad deal over this particular build.
For four years, Mike #WadGate Fisher and his Tory chums who ran the council kept all contract details secret. They denied access even to elected councillors who were interested in whether the “Croydon urban regeneration vehicle”, or CCURV partnership with developers John Laing, represented good value.
The build started in March 2010, after Fisher had been in office for four years, and when the council chief executive was Jon Rouse and his deputy, and finance director, was Nathan Elvery.
CCURV was intended to develop council-owned properties and generate income for the borough, though it was launched by the council’s brain’s trust during the worst slump that the property market has ever seen.
While denying opposition Labour councillors access to contract details of CCURV, Fisher’s deputy leader, Tim Pollard, seriously suggested that the council’s new headquarters would be delivered at no cost to the borough. Yet now it seems that the Tories have lumbered Croydon with the most expensive council offices in history.
Yet while Newman was quick to order an independent inquiry into the matter of the £11,000 additional allowances claimed by Fisher, in a matter where tens of millions of pounds of public money is concerned, he has refused to hold an inquiry, saying it would be “a waste of money”.
Given the parlous state of the borough’s finances, with 500 council jobs likely to be axed in the next two years, you might think that Newman would be keen to consider any means to claw back some part of this massive bill from Laings, especially as he was elected on a manifesto promising openness and transparency in the council.
But no. In answer to a public question, Newman said, “I believe we should do all we can to deliver the best deal for Croydon taxpayers from the building, rather than waste more money on a public enquiry.”
A pattern of overpayment on public projects
In their publicity material, Laings described BWH as “CCURV’s corner stone project”.
“The development is a 240,000sqft BREEAM excellent office building designed to house Croydon Council and a range of local service providers. Throughout the development process CCURV have been delivering a high level of socio-economic benefits to the borough, delivered through the construction contractors Sir Robert McAlpine.”
CCURV also developed a site alongside Purley Way for the Waddon Leisure Centre, at a cost to the council of £15million. As Inside Croydon reported last week, this is £10 million more than it is costing another London borough to build a swimming pool complex in Ilford. There seems to be a pattern emerging here.
According to Wickens, had the developers built Fisher’s Folly to the same specification and at the same cost rate as The Shard, the capital’s tallest building and one of the most technologically advanced in the world, even then the cost to Croydon’s ratepayers would have been £40 million less than the final bill.
Simon Hall, the cabinet member responsible for the borough’s finances, recently revealed that the cost of Fisher’s Folly had been revised upwards, to £144 million.
Wickens has crunched some numbers, based on what is publicly available on the internet. “Fisher’s Folly cost £6,280 per square metre based on 22,300 square metres and total cost of £140 million. At the Shard rate, it would have cost £101 million.
“The Shard is one of the most technologically advanced buildings and tallest around, and therefore it costs more to build. But the build cost of The Shard works out at £4,545 per square metre (based on 110,000 square metre and cost of £500 million).
“It is absolutely incredible that Fisher’s Folly is two to three times the normal office price and 1.4 times more than The Shard.”
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- For more coverage of CCURV, click here
Coming to Croydon
- Christmas music and jam session, South Norwood, Dec 28
- David Lean Cinema, Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief, Dec 29
- David Lean Cinema, The Beat Beneath My Feet, Dec 30
- David Lean Cinema, The Hundred-Foot Journey, Jan 3
- David Lean Cinema, Mr Turner, Jan 8
- David Lean Cinema, Leviathan, Jan 13
- Norwood Society talk: Penge, the making of a suburb, Jan 15
- David Lean Cinema, The 78 Project Movie, Jan 15
- David Lean Cinema, Hannah Arendt, Jan 20
- David Lean Cinema, The Imitation Game, Jan 22
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
- David Lean Cinema, Night Will Fall, Jan 27 (Holocaust Memorial Day)
- David Lean Cinema, Kon-Tiki, Jan 29
- Norwood Society talk: Crystal Palace and Dulwich, Feb 19
- Norwood Society talk: Charlies Dickens in Norwood, Mar 19
- Norwood Society: Balloons and airships at Crystal Palace, Apr 16
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