WALTER CRONXITE reports on a worrying 50 per cent inflation rate on one key council building project
The cost of building the new swimming pool and leisure centre in New Addington has gone up by £8million in less than 12 months, according to Croydon Council. And work on the project hasn’t even started yet.
A statement put out by the council yesterday revealed that the New Addington leisure centre, where work is due to begin in September, is to cost £25million.
Yet just 11 months ago, a press release also issued from the council’s propaganda bunker in Fisher’s Folly was stating that the budget for the leisure centre was £17million.
This had been the figure set aside for the project for the past four years. Even that was on the steep side, and more than the £15million cost on a similar development, the leisure centre at Waddon which was completed in 2013.
The latest council press release offers no explanation for the startling increase in the costs of the New Addington centre since last August.
Someone might write to ask the council chief executive, Jo Negrini, but she’ll probably be too busy meeting her architect mates and developer friends to bother responding to correspondence from mere Croydon residents.
And any Freedom of Information request for detailed costings on the scheme will doubtless be palmed off with the excuse that this spending of millions of pounds of public money is “commercially confidential”.
It won’t be the first time that Croydon’s Council Tax-payers have been told, without explanation, that they have had to pay vastly over the odds for a council-managed major building project.
No one’s ever explained why an office building, Fisher’s Folly, the council offices also sometimes referred to as Bernard Wetherill House, which typically might have cost less than £50million if developed elsewhere in London, somehow ended up costing Croydon £140million. It works out that floorspace in Fisher’s Folly was more expensive to build than The Shard.
Tony “Soprano” Newman, Labour’s council leader, did mention at one point – when he wanted to get elected – that he would see what he could do to find out where that missing £90million of much-needed public funds had gone… But since taking up office alongside some of the senior council officials who saddled Croydon with that huge bill, he’s gone quiet on the matter.
Nor has anyone ever explained why the poorly finished Waddon Leisure Centre, at £15million, cost Croydon much more than other, similar, leisure centres built in and around London in the past decade. In one instance, Redbridge managed to build a 25-metre pool for a bargain-basement £3.25million.
Both the Waddon Leisure Centre and Fisher’s Folly were built under the Tory-run council in their pisspoor-value CCURV partnership with Laings.
Friday’s press release, issued on behalf of the now Labour-run council ahead of a cabinet meeting on Monday, begins: “Strong financial planning and maintaining a firm hold on Croydon’s finances has put the council in a strong position to continue delivering a balanced budget for the next three years.”
“In the face of very significant continued reductions to its funding from central government, the council has been able to keep a firm hold on its finances, balancing the budget for the last two years and developing a robust plan to enable it to continue to deliver value for money services for residents,” the press release states.
The unexplained, steeply rising costs for the New Addington Leisure Centre have been a cause for concern for a couple of years, with the local Tories questioning in 2015 why £1.2million of the then £17million budget was to be spent on “scheme design and development”.
“Money is very tight right now so spending such a large sum without anything actually happening is worrying,” the Tories – who when they were in power had spent money on “consultants” like drunken sailors – said then.
And a promise to New Addington residents from the then council CEO, Jon Rouse, that the redevelopment of Central Parade would not include housing appears to have been discarded. The new leisure centre is to be flanked by eight tall houses, seven three-bed and one four-bed-roomed house.
Those new homes, however, cannot be the reason for the £8million price hike on the project, since they were included in the scheme which gained approval from the planning committee less than a year ago.
Then, the council press office spewed out: “Plans to bring a £17million community and leisure centre and new housing to New Addington were given the go ahead by Croydon’s planning committee on Thursday 18 August…
“The committee gave unanimous support to the plans, which will radically transform the western side of Central Parade, with work due to start in the New Year. The new multi-level site will provide community spaces, state-of-the-art sports facilities and eight new family homes.”
That press release has been proved to be wrong by nine months over start date for the leisure centre (which is a political hiccup Newman and his cronies could have done without, since it means there is no chance of the leisure centre being open before next May’s local elections).
But it is not only the council which has placed the £17million price tag on the project. The website of the architects, Holder Mathias, who have drawn up the designs for the gilded monstrosity, clearly lists the value of the project at £17.5million.
What is unexplained now is how the price has managed to soar by 50 per cent in less than a year.
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