WALTER CRONXITE reports on the latest attempt by council officials to disguise blundering that is costing the borough millions
The increasingly secretive Croydon Council has taken to hiding behind its wholly owned building firm, Brick by Brick, as it tries to cover-up how a £30million refurbishment project is now costing at least £41million.
The council yesterday responded to a Freedom of Information request regarding spending on the Fairfield Halls.
Rather than hire an established builder with a track record in project management, the powers-that-be at Croydon Council placed the sensitive and complex refurbishment in the hands of its own, new and unproven development firm, Brick by Brick.
As Inside Croydon has reported, the project has been plagued with problems since the Halls closed in June 2016.
Unable to get answers on matters of reasonable public interest directly from council officials or from questions asked in the Town Hall chamber, councillor Robert Ward’s FoI question asked: “Please list each of the scope changes that resulted in an additional cost greater than £100,000 and a justification for each for incurring this extra expense.”
What Ward has got back is little more than a blatant attempt to avoid giving straight answers to straight questions about the expenditure of millions of pounds of public money.
“Croydon Council is not a party to the construction contract for the refurbishment of Fairfield Halls which exists between Brick by Brick Croydon Ltd and Vinci Construction,” states the disingenuous official response.
Croydon Council owns the Fairfield Halls. It also owns Brick by Brick.
As a Katharine Street source, astonished at the manner in which the council is withholding information, said today, “Are they seriously expecting the public to believe that senior council executives, and elected councillors such as the cabinet member for finance, Simon Hall, did not have sight of and approval of contracts which would see tens of millions of pounds of council cash being spent on an important borough asset?
“If this really is the case, then the council’s leadership team, like Jo Negrini and Richard Simpson, were either negligent, or simply stupid.”
The council’s FoI response did, however, go on to provide some of the information requested.
“In a refurbishment project of this scale and type, delivered under a traditional building contract, there are innumerable instructions and changes required to address specific issues associated with refurbishments and operator requirements,” they wrote, just a tad patronisingly.
Without providing the itemised costs or explanations requested, they then provided a list of what changes had to be implemented. According to the council, the main changes were:
- “re-design of internal scaffold due to new structural constraints” – which suggests that the original survey was inadequate and failed to provide a proper assessment of the building’s “structural constraints”.
- “new walls to risers required following asbestos removal” – again, something else which probably should, and could, have been foreseen when preparing the project.
- “additional door replacements required following fire survey and approval of fire strategy” – another oversight.
- “additional plaster repairs required following intrusive surveys” – which sounds as if there’s been a degree of botched work going on.
- “sprinkler replacement required to meet building insurance requirements” – how could something as fundamental as this be overlooked in the original scope of works?
- “design development of structural works, façade works and ventilation following intrusive surveys”
- “additional fire protection required following completion of post-contract photographic survey and review of stripped out works”
- “change to methodology for lead paint”
- “costs to cover ECSO funding for the plant in the energy centre which did not materialise” – so someone didn’t manage to deliver on a considerable amount of third-party funding.
- “diversion of the existing fire hydrant was required” – again, something which surely ought to have been foreseen.
- “back-of-house refurbishment scope increased to meet Operator requirements” – an extraordinary admission that when planning the refurbishment to spend £41million on the arts venue, a proper brief on behalf of the venue operators was not factored in.
Given that sources within the council have indicated that a number of aspects of the original specifications for the project, in particular involving stage door access, were abandoned within the first 18 months of the refurbishment to save on the ever-rising costs, the council’s response this week is unlikely to stem further questions about the way the scheme has been managed.
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