Brick by Brick’s Fairfield Halls refurb goes £11m over budget

WALTER CRONXITE reports on the latest multi-million-pound overspend by the council-owned ‘house-building’ company that has yet to build a single new home

Work on the Fairfield Halls has progressed slowly since it was closed in 2016, which we were told then was to allow a more speedy refurbishment

The refurbishment works being carried out on the Fairfield Halls arts complex by Brick by Brick will cost at least £41million, according to an official council Freedom of Information response.

That’s £11million over budget for the troubled, slow-running project, which is already nine months overdue and has at least another six months to go until Brick by Brick, the council-owned “house-builders”, are finally off-site.

The council even attempted to suppress the information about the huge overspend on the Fairfield Halls, deliberately breaking Freedom of Information Act laws by withholding its response for longer than allowed.

The council’s response, to an enquiry submitted in January by an elected councillor, was only released yesterday. That prevented the multi-million-pound overspend becoming a matter of questioning for staff from Brick by Brick on Thursday, when they appeared before other councillors in a pre-application presentation to the planning committee in the Town Hall chamber.

The FoI had been submitted by Robert Ward, the Conservative councillor for Selsdon and Addington Village, apparently in response to Inside Croydon’s reports which had estimated that the Fairfield Halls refurbishment, which was supposed to have taken two years and cost £30million, would now be more than a year late in completion and probably be costing at least one-third more than budgeted.

The council’s formal response, dated March 1, 2019, states:

“Works to Fairfield Halls are funded by Brick by Brick under a cross subsidy model using the development value of surrounding land.

“Brick by Brick have provided an estimate of net construction cost for works to the Halls (inc additional asbestos related works) and surrounding enabling infrastructure of c£41m. This additional investment is being met by Brick by Brick as the developers of the scheme.”

The final line is the height of disingenuity: Brick by Brick is wholly owned by Croydon Council, and derives all its finance through loans and equity from the council, which also owns the Fairfield Halls. So this £41million “being met by… the developers of the scheme”  is very much public money.

Brick by Brick’s pre-app presentation on Thursday was about its plans to build more than 400 flats… sorry, “luxury apartments”… between the Fairfield Halls and Croydon College. Its original scheme, involving only half as many homes, crashed last year when Brick by Brick failed to secure the purchase of the Barclay Road Annex building from Croydon College, after three years’ negotiations.

Nearly three years since it was closed, and Croydon’s Alison Butler still has little to show the likes of Sadiq Khan other than billboards. And a £11m overspend

The build and delivery of these hundreds of homes, which ought to have started in parallel with the Fairfield Halls refurbishment in 2016, now won’t begin before 2020, with the Brick by Brick properties not coming to market until 2022 at the earliest.

Any profits from the sale of those Fairfield flats is supposed to be used to defray the costs of the refurbishment of the Halls. Only now, it will need at least an additional £11million in profits to cover those ever-rising costs.

In Brick by Brick’s latest business plan, a finalised version of which was produced last week, they blamed “Brexit uncertainties” for the increasingly difficult housing market in London. The company – formed in 2015 but which has yet to deliver a single new home – has meanwhile also asked Croydon Council for an additional £78million-worth of loans.

The council’s FoI response, terse and concise for fear of giving away any additional, helpful information to the public about the spending of public money, does betray a couple of possible lines of interest.

This is how we were promised it would all look when finished . Now we know that it won’t. But that it will cost a lot more

The reference to “net construction cost” suggests that contractors hired by Brick by Brick may be subject to some penalty payments, perhaps for the late completion of their work. This, therefore, also suggests that the total bill already exceeds £41million.

Inside Croydon has reported how Mott MacDonald, the Croydon-based global civil engineering firm, had left the Fairfield Halls project, in which it was a key player, in September 2017.

During the first year of the refurbishment, any real progress was hard to discern, and this has since been explained by those involved with the project as being related to the “additional asbestos related works” referred to in the FoI response.

The notion that 21st century builders dealing with a 1950s-1960s-built structure were in some way surprised to discover that asbestos had been used in its construction may seem to most reasonably minded people absurd.

Which is why the decision, made by people in the most senior positions at Croydon Council to place the sensitive and prestigious Fairfield Halls project into the hands of the unproven operators at Brick by Brick is now looking like a £11million blunder.

At least.


About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Alison Butler, Brick by Brick, Business, Croydon Council, Fairfield, Fairfield Halls, Housing, Mott MacDonald, Planning, Property and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Brick by Brick’s Fairfield Halls refurb goes £11m over budget

  1. derekthrower says:

    More evidence of the incompetence of the personnel behind Brick by Brick and the ever expanding black hole occurring in the finances of Croydon Council. Good leadership needs brave decisions. Where is the Conservative Group campaigning for the end of this hopeless scheme? Where is anyone inside the Labour Group with the guts to speak out about this wasteful failed experiment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is the black hole in the centre of the Council’s finance that is the most worrisome aspect of this and the Hammersfield debacle.

    The council is going to be left with huge debts and servicing charges for years to come and with little hope of reducing them significantly unless Brick By Brick suddenly hits a gold mine, and that is highly unlikely.

    The result will be further underfunding of essential services to children, education, older people, the environment and parks and, overall, a borough that is close to dysfunctional and hardly fit to live in.

    Like

  3. Kathryn Kenny says:

    I am astounded that Tony Newman a reasonable labour leader for many years has let himself be hoodwinked by Butler, Scott etc with this whole BxB fiasco.

    Surely now it is time for the reasonable members of the Labour administration to speak up, to put an end to this vanity trip before the council go bankrupt?

    We can’t expect much from the Tories, after flogging off the precious Reisco collection to contribute to the rebuilding of the Fairfield, but they are there sitting in the council chamber claiming expenses…come on speak up do SOMETHING !

    Like

    • “Reasonable Labour leader” and “Tony Newman” in the same sentence, Kathryn? Are you sure you’ve got the right bloke?

      Liked by 2 people

    • sebastiantillinger7694 says:

      Newman and Scott are personal friends. They go on holiday together. That’s why Scott was given the seat in the cabinet. It’s like giving your best mate £40k just because you can.

      Croydon folk need to wake up to this nepotism funded by OUR money.

      Like

  4. David Wickens says:

    Readers may recall an article on this site dated Oct 19, 2018. I contributed to that and it suggested that revised cost must be approaching £40million. Unfortunately that figure has been realised and even exceeded at a cost to the Council Tax payers. There is also the lost revenue from ticket sales due to the scheme running over a year late. Blame is attributed to the presence of asbestos but that should have been surveyed and removed prior to the main contract or properly incorporated in the main contract as advance works. It should not have been unforeseen.

    Like

  5. intouchcr1 says:

    Isn’t it time Government steps in to this poorly run council and it’s fake “building” (I use this term loosely) company?

    They’re a mess, nothing built, over budget, and incompetent. It’s run by Jo “you can’t touch me” Negrini and her puppy dog Colm Lacey, who also screwed up when working for Negrini at Lambeth.

    The council members need to admit they’ve got it wrong. Awards for designs for buildings that never get built are different to awards for BUILDING.

    Brick by Brick has been arrogance and problematic from day one – how much longer are we supposed to let our taxes be wasted by Colm Lacey, who has been all over this since 2015. Any other place he’d be out. Disgrace.

    Like

  6. farmersboy says:

    I ran a pub back in the day, successfully. my son’s a bricklayer, my best friend is a plumber and my grandad had a shed built entirely from asbestos that we successfully took down with no one dying. Where do I apply for council contracts?

    Like

  7. sebastiantillinger7694 says:

    What gets me is how there is no sense of responsibility at a senior level. Because it’s public money, easily arrived at, personal responsibility doesn’t seem to come in into it.

    This overrun is the equivalent of Croydon Council sending the entire population of the borough, adults and children, a £35 Amazon gift voucher to spend as they wish.

    If this was a private developer, (a) it wouldn’t have happened (b) people would have been moved on.

    Next we have Jo Negrini using more of our money to fly her and her mates down to South of France for their annual developers beach party where she’ll be swaggering around extolling the virtues of Brick by Brick to anyone sober enough to listen.

    Has to stop. Officers at Croydon Council, paid out of our council tax, have to be got rid of if they’re not up to their jobs. Starting with Negrini.

    Like

  8. Nick Davies says:

    Oh yes Seb, MIPIM – “Croydon is Londons (sic) most exciting investment opportunity. On the cusp of a £5.25bn regeneration programme that will revitalise the urban district an…” You have to register to see the rest.

    Does anyone know anyone down there who can have a nose around stand C15, it would be wonderful to see what they’re trying on. If you can blag your way in I’m sure the Glee Club’s traditional fare of paper cups of warm white wine and bits of cheese on cocktail sticks stuck in a pineapple will be ample reward.

    https://www.mipim.com/en/search-results/?epslanguage=en&kw=croydon#.

    Liked by 1 person

    • derekthrower says:

      How can they continue to justify going to this event after years of remaining on the cusp and never delivering anything of tangible benefit? How much has been paid to Negrini and her fellow Brick by Brick incompetents to have a free break to the South of France?

      Liked by 1 person

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