Newman: Fairfield Halls won’t be ready to open until 2019

The wrecking crew was let loose on the Arnhem Gallery last month. The £30m Fairfield refurbishment is more than six months behind schedule

Fairfield Halls will not re-open until 2019, Tony Newman, the leader of the council, announced in a somewhat off-hand matter last night.

The prestigious arts complex was supposed to be ready for a grand re-opening in July 2018. But now, there’s even doubts about which parts of the Fairfield Halls – the concert hall, Ashcroft Theatre and the Arnhem Gallery – will be ready next year.

The delays could badly jeopardise Newman’s pet project, of accessing around £1million arts funding by having Croydon declared London’s Borough of Culture for 2019.

Speaking at one of the last council cabinet meetings before the local elections on May 3, Newman – perhaps inadvertently – let the cat out of the bag that his Labour administration’s £30million flagship project is now running more than six months over schedule.

The Fairfield Halls, the biggest arts venue in the capital south of the river apart from the South Bank, “went dark” in July 2016. The promised two-year refurbishment programme is intended to add an extra half-century of life to the 50-year-old venue.

Blairite Newman’s flippant comment last night confirmed that the Fairfield Halls’ new operators, BH Live, will not be able to put in place an artistic programme for at least another 12 months.

Tony Newman: organist

In 2016, contractors appeared slow to start on their demanding project, with few signs of workers even being on site on a daily basis until midway through last year.

Since just before Christmas, when they put a massive hole in the side of the building where the Arnhem Gallery used to be, there’s been few signs of rapid progress elsewhere around the site.

And it all leaves a gaping hole in Newman’s “Delivering for Croydon” claims, ahead of the local elections in May.

Newman’s arrogance surfaced once again in the council chamber, as he batted off questions about the project’s progress, or lack of it, and attempted to chide the opposition Tories for their belated concern for arts in the borough. Now, Newman said the Conservatives’ only concern about the Fairfield Halls seemed to be “which particular day in 2019 it will open”.

Truth is, it is a concern shared by the council’s appointed operators, BH Live, as they are unable to make any bookings of acts or shows without clarity over an opening date or, indeed, what parts of the building will be ready to open.

As chair of the cabinet meeting, Newman did not allow the opposition to follow-up on the implications of his admission that the Fairfield scheme is running so badly late. Nor did Newman give any indication of the efforts he and his council might be taking to encourage speedier progress from the contractors, or the penalty clauses in their contract for late delivery.

It means that there will be no 2018 Christmas season of shows and pantomimes at the Fairfield Halls. November and December is usually the most lucrative period of the year for theatre operators. This will be the third Christmas period that the Halls will have been closed.

“A hand over from the contractor to BH Live is still scheduled for November,” a Katharine Street source said today.

“How much of the building is ready to be handed over is the question, and the honest answer is, we still don’t know.”

Newman was keen to stress the positives about the £30million scheme last night. These would appear to be (a) that the contractors are not Carillion; and (b) the Fairfield Halls might still be open before anyone even starts demolition work for Westfield.

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10 Responses to Newman: Fairfield Halls won’t be ready to open until 2019

  1. Michael Webb says:

    Well that is not a surprise, is it.
    The public said this would happen, the council it wouldn’t, so now you clearly know who to vote for in the next elections for your council.
    If they cannot get something like this right, and when people said they wouldn’t, then what other hope is there for them?
    Look at Brick by Brick …… dont bother you might miss the action!

  2. Nick Mattey says:

    Both Sutton and Croydon councils seem to share a common contempt for the arts and the theatre in particular . In Sutton Cllr Whitehead has made sure that its two theatres will never open again by not only removing all subsidies but then selling off all the equipment.

    If the contract for the Fairfield Halls were properly drawn up, the work would be nearing completion as the contractors would be facing swingeing penalities for failing to deliver on time.

    This inability to write proper enforceable contracts is also mirrored in Sutton. Here the call centres are jammed with complaints about missed waste collections.

    It appears that Sutton and Veolia are unable to agree on what either side should be doing to fufill the contract.

  3. And the Council and politicians in general wonder why there’s a pandemic of mistrust over what they say, what they do and why they do it. The Fairfield was never going to open on time. It closed and then nothing. No action. It was first reported to be six months behind just six months after it started, which must be some kind of record. The application to become the Borough of Culture when the Fairfield is shut is cloud cuckoo land thinking. We’re the Borough of Culture because we have a pub theatre at The Spreadeagle?

  4. And Labour want to nationalise more businesses. This farce is one very good reason why private companies are more suited to such projects than local or national governments.

    • It’s a private company which is undertaking the work at Fairfield Halls, David, and which is performing so poorly.

      Just like Carillion did.

      • Michael Webb says:

        The “Private Company” issue is surely only a small part of the problem (or answer) If the private company had been appointed when the complex first closed, or before it did, then by now we could have expected to see a near complete redevelopment, but they were not! Leaving the place empty for months is not going to get it developed, which is what happened. Apart from throwing lots of overtime and thus addition expenditure at it, what can we now expect?

        • Our understanding is that there have been two separate contractors, and that the first, undertaking preliminary work, was tasked with removing the 1950s asbestos around the building. They, too, were a private company, being paid with public money.

          Whether this, plus the refurb, was ever really accomplishable within two years now seems questionable. Was the undertaking given because two years for complete closure offered up becuase it was more politically palatable? It certainly looks that way.

          We know this: the refurbishment needed to be done. It is cheaper to do it with the complete site closed down than in phases. We know that Croydon Tories inherited a funded and workable refurb plan in 2006, and did nothing with it. And we know that Tim Pollard and Steve O’Connell, singing badly bastardised versions of Land of Hope and Glory, opposed and attempted to frustrate the £30m refurbishment from the moment it was proposed.

          So the Croydon public, and Council Tax-payers, have been let down by private contractors, Croydon Tories and political expediency.

      • Its a private company which has been at all times dictated to and directed by Croydon Council. They cant even get the basics right. So much so they have changed builders half way through.

  5. davidmogo says:

    FairFailed Halls

    (Sort of…)

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