Council tries a cover-up over £41m spent on Fairfield Halls

WALTER CRONXITE reports on the latest attempt by council officials to disguise blundering that is costing the borough millions

A £30m project to refurbish the Fairfield Halls is now costing £41m, but the council is refusing to explain why

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.

The refurbishment, which was meant to take just two years and cost £30million, is running at least 15 months late and is set to cost at least £41million.

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.”

Cllr Simon Hall: the council’s FoI response  suggests that he had no input on Fairfield Halls contracts

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.

There’s been plenty of guided tours around the unfinished Fairfield Halls, but no proper explanation of where the extra £11m has been spent

“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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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
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3 Responses to Council tries a cover-up over £41m spent on Fairfield Halls

  1. How convenient for the Cabinet member with responsibility for finance to say “nothing to do with me Guv” when it has everything to do with him as he was presumably behind and agreed the setting up of Brick by Brick and approved handing them the contract for the refurbishment of Fairfield Halls. He seems to forget that whichever way you cut it, it is all public funded money. Still, what is £11m between friends?

    I bet the contractors doing the work are laughing all the way to the bank at the way they must be running circles around Brick by Brick. Trebles all round.

    So much for Tony Newman’s promise of transparency when Labour took over in 2014.

  2. We’ve heard of ‘Arms length’ arrangements but it would seem that BxB is a whole planet away from any arrangement with the Council, when it suits them.

    Reading the recent story of the sad and stressful experiences of Miss X and her 3 children, sent off to a slum landlord 40 miles away, it could even be the case that we ought to be thankful that BxB have failed to build any social housing, which may, like Fairfield, have resulted in buildings with unforeseen asbestos, lead paint, messed up plastering, inadequate fire precautions etc, etc.

    Where do they dig these people up from?

  3. Alice Tate says:

    Reads like they took shortcuts on fire safety and then the operator came in going What the hell is this death trap you’re giving to Me?! And the council was okay with Lego brick by brick handing over a shoddy fire risk? That lil bald man is a law unto himself but behind every successful *ahem* man is a woman. That’ll be Jo negrini then…says it all. Councillors Directors and that BxB baldy all covering each others back. Lo and behold anyone should be held to account. Who is project managing this public sector disaster? Riba Fellow extraodinare?
    I give the operator 2 months and then I’m sure we’ll hear they’ve withdrawn from this mess. Extract yourself now!

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