Unfinished and incomplete: where’s Fairfield £41m been spent?

The Fairfield Halls has re-opened – late, over-budget and it seems, unfinished

And… Breathe! The Fairfield Halls has finally re-opened, with a gala concert planned for tonight. But after over-running by 15 months and over-spending by £11million, the refurbishment is not yet finished and is incomplete.
Our photo-journalist, DANNY LEIBOVITZ, reports

It is a tale which has become part of Town Hall legend, although we are assured that it did really happen. In 2012, the veteran Tory councillor, Dudley Mead, went to visit the ageing doyenne of the Riesco family to advise her of the then Conservative-controlled council’s intention to flog off some of the valuable collection of ancient Chinese porcelain, which had been donated to the people of Croydon by Raymond Riesco upon his death nearly 50 years earlier.

Sensing some resistence to this act of Philistinism (the Museums Association accused Croydon Council of acting “unethically”), and the break up of a unique collection which was until then poorly displayed at the Town Hall, Mead offered up the suggestion that the money raised would be used to replace all the seats in the concert hall at the Fairfield Halls.

Looks familiar? The seating has not been replaced, despite the £41million makeover

Old Mrs Riesco, on hearing this, quietly nodded, which Mead took to mean assent, and so in due course the precious crockery was packed off to Hong Kong for auction.

So you can imagine, then, the dismay of Riesco’s heirs, and many other concert- and theatre-goers, when they arrive at the freshly painted, re-opened Fairfield Halls to discover that, even after three and half years of refurbishment works and spending at least £41million on upgrading the arts centre that, after all that, the seating in the concert hall has not been changed.

There are plenty of signs to show that work at the Halls is not complete

“They just ran out of money,” according to one Town Hall source very close to the project, which seems an extraordinary admission given that the refurbishment, which had been placed in the hands of the council’s loss-making in-house house-builders, Brick by Brick, managed to go over budget by at least £11million. The final figures for the cost of the scheme might emerge, eventually.

It is not just the seating which will be familiar to the VIP guests when they return to the Fairfield Halls tonight for the gala re-opening concert, the second big set-piece event of the week, following Monday evening’s “re-dedication” of the Ashcroft Theatre by Peggy Ashcroft’s friend, Dame Judi Dench.

Or “Judy Dench”, if you read the near-illiterate tweets of the nine-bob buffoon that is Croydon’s council leader, Tony Newman.

That Newman used Monday to completely politicise the occasion was a disappointment, if not a surprise.

Workmen were still on site as Dame Judi Dench arrived

That the Labour council leader managed to make a fool of himself was even less of a surprise.

Rather than make any attempt to be generous and welcoming, Newman abused the opportunity afforded by the occasion to attack what he called “the naysayers”, who he claimed, “said it couldn’t be done”.

And in doing so, Newman entirely proved his critics’ point: the refurbishment has not been delivered, as Newman had originally promised, in just two years and for the agreed budget of £30million. The man truly is an idiot.

‘South London’s Largest Arts Centre’: Newman’s lie has been plastered all around the borough

Newman’s magnificent ability to over-promise and under-deliver is, in fact, entirely epitomised by the Fairfield Halls. Before work began on site, Newman rashly suggested that Fairfield Halls would be “bigger and better than the South Bank Centre”.

Which clearly, it is not, and never will be.

Though that has not stopped the Halls’ marketing department continuing to make false claims about Fairfield’s status among south London arts venues, and has seen at least one of Newman’s numpties on the council plumbing new depths of vacuousness as they try to justify such outright lies by also claiming that somehow, Lambeth is not in south London…

The comparisons with the South Bank Centre are inevitable, anyway, since Croydon’s architects took their lead when designing the building from the Festival Hall, and a nod to the Fairfield’s 1950s heritage is clear in the Festival of Britain-style type font chosen and used in the signage that has appeared on the building and around the town centre.

On Monday, even as Newman addressed the seemingly hand-picked audience of party activists, sycophants and toadies, there were hard hats and hi-viz jackets in evidence around the Fairfield Halls, fixing this bit of wiring here or nailing down that bit of carpet. “They said it couldn’t be done,” Newman said. Oh, how they laughed and clapped…

Whatever Brick by Brick has spent the £41m refurbishment budget on, it is not the tacky-looking furnishings in the public spaces

Initial impressions from some sceptics is that “not much has changed”, although that is to miss entirely the point of a refurbishment. It was always meant to be a redecoration, re-wiring and modernisation process for the Halls, which were built at the end of the 1950s and opened in 1962.

Maybe Newman’s over-promising has raised false expectations. The advertising, and Newman’s own speech, referred to the Fairfield Halls being a “new” venue, when clearly that is also not the case.

The re-opened Halls has received a mixed reception from those who have been taken on tours of the place. The premium sponsors’ club lounge won’t be available to all customers

The refurbishment was also supposed to be the opportunity to upgrade and modernise, enhancing what has always been an excellent regional arts facility.

But it appears that despite the massive expense, and more than a year’s delay in getting the place re-opened, what was once held up as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring the Fairfield up-to-date has been squandered.

Security was on hand during Newmans speech for… no one really knows

The back-of-house was supposed to have been re-modelled to permit access to the trucks and rigs of the 21st century’s biggest acts – thanks to advice from Francis Rossi and the late Rick Parfitt, of Status Quo, who had expressed a desire to perform at the Fairfield Halls but were prevented from doing so because of the restricted stage access.

Plans to open up the back-of-stage area were abandoned very early in the project. Why? “Cost,” according to our Town Hall source.

Another bright idea, to transform the subterranean car park into an art gallery, was also abandoned.

Though if you have any plans to visit the Fairfield Halls by car, you need to think again. The on-site car park will not be ready until some time next year – another sign that Brick by Brick has failed, again, to deliver on time.

Provisions for disabled parking, meanwhile, appear to be in some doubt: several enquiries to the box office have been met with stunned silence.

The Festival of Britain-style signage has been painted on the pavements around the town centre

Outside, mature trees and shrubs which had stood between the Halls and the traffic on the six-lane urban motorway on Wellesley Road for decades have been dug up and destroyed (so much for another Newman empty boast, of making Croydon London’s greenest borough), replaced by some cheap-looking tubs and a green tarmac bicycle lane that has been hurriedly laid.

It looks shoddily and cheaply done, and uneven, too – though one councillor suggests that this is only a temporary arrangement, and that it will all be dug up again… More costs incurred, to cover-up for the incompetences of the late-running Brick by Brick.

At Monday’s opening ceremony, attended by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, while some tours of the lobby area and public spaces were conducted, the Concert Hall and the Ashcroft Theatre remained out-of-bounds even to many of the councillors and VIPs – perhaps another sign that all was not quite finished in some key areas.

Was Ollie Lewis, the cabinet member for shit shows, late with his homework?

Security “heavies” were also on-hand to stop anyone wandering where they were not welcome – the Fairfield’s Corps of Commissionaires has been disbanded, another element of the place’s old-school charms which has been lost with the closure in 2016.

Early arrivals caught a glimpse of Oliver Lewis, the council’s cabinet member for butt plugs, shit shows and stuff, seated at one of the venue’s cheap-looking new tables, scribbling away at the notes for his speech like a guilty schoolboy who was late with his homework.

Lewis would announce that Croydon is to bid to be London’s next Borough of Culture, an exercise which may prove to be less hapless this time round than his previous effort, which was launched when the council had no real idea when the Fairfield Halls – a core component in any such bid – would re-open.

Trebles all round!

Eventually, some flunkies emerged with cases of some cheap fizz (Da Luca Prosecco, £34.59 for three bottles at Tesco, in case you wondered; clearly, this was not where the £41million has been spent), and no sooner had the sound of the first cork been heard to pop, than Newman appeared, followed closely by Alison Butler and her husband, Paul Scott,  plus the self-proclaimed “founder of Croydon Momentum”, Niro Sirisena, and Hamida Ali and Patsy Cummings.

Butler, Newman’s deputy and council cabinet member responsible for building zero council homes in five years, made some self-serving speech in which she actually congratulated Brick by Brick, and her appointee as the developers’ managing director, Colm Lacey, on going vastly over-budget and taking nearly twice as long to deliver the refurbished Halls.

She then performed a ridiculous little, self-important ceremony of handing over the keys to the Halls to Newman.

Dame ‘Judy’ Dench has a laugh after Tony Newman tells her how much has been spent on the Fairfield Halls

Presumably, therefore, it is no longer Brick by Brick’s responsibility to clean the place up after themselves. On Monday, the place still needed a good scrub – the windows were murky, and there was builders’ dust everywhere. Goodness knows what her Dameness must have thought of it all – all so very sarf London, perhaps?

Monday’s ceremonies and this week have all the appearances of being a “soft launch”, which is altogether sensible.

Thus the commemorative plaque revealed by Mayor Khan only states that the Halls were re-opened in “September 2019” – no need to spend extra money on a new plaque if they had missed the September 16 deadline by another few days. Monday was, after all, at least the fifth date given for when the Halls were supposed to re-open.

And the first week’s run in the Ashcroft Theatre is by an (albeit very accomplished) amdram group, better for the venue managers to get to grips with any snagging issues around the stage and front of house, and get everything properly in order before any professional stars arrive to perform.

Certainly, BH Live, the Bournemouth-based venue management company put in charge of the Fairfield Halls, does appear to have made some significantly improved bookings of acts, compared to those who had been in charge up to 2016. They will need to deliver crowd-pulling shows, too, since BH Live will not be getting any subsidy from the council for the venue as was once the case.

That is hardly surprising – given the collapse of the multi-million-pound property deal with Croydon College on the site adjacent to the Halls, which was supposed to pay for the refurbishment works, it means Newman and his numpties could take several years to find the cash to pay off the £41million, and more, that has been already been spent.

All that and, to misquote the late Ken Dodd, “not a new seat in the house”.

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 Art, Ashcroft Theatre, BH Live, Brick by Brick, CODA, Colm Lacey, Croydon Council, Fairfield Halls, Paul Scott, Riesco Collection, Theatre, Tony Newman and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Unfinished and incomplete: where’s Fairfield £41m been spent?

  1. Brian Matthews says:

    I phoned yesterday to enquire whether there was any on-site parking at Fairfield Halls. I was told that the underground car park is open …

    • In which case, Brian, you were misinformed.
      We have documents from Fairfield Halls that clearly state that the car park is not available until 2020.

      Perhaps the person answering the phones hasn’t read the memo?

  2. mikebweb says:

    Fantasic, it still still looks like a building site from the outside.
    I am attending the concert this evening so, some two weeks ago, I asked about parking and was told, from some minion in Bournemouth who admitted she had never been near the place, that there is parking for 400, with special disabled spaces and a lift direct from the car park.
    Passing yesterday, I wondered, seeing the car park entrance in Barclay Road sill closed, and I made a phone call to the Halls to be told, ah!, yes we have a problem and are getting round to explaining this on our website.
    So, I asked, where do the disabled park? The answer was that they have three reserved spaces at the front and they are going to tell callers about this some time later.
    You cannot reserve them, just fight amongst yourselves and he who dares, wins! On pressing the point I was told only a Manager can authorise something and they are all in meetings, ring again at 10am.
    This I did and got told to ring a different mobile number, where a rather more informed gentleman sorted the problem out and was concerned, he said, to learn of the ineptitude and lack of staff briefing, which he would attend to.
    He told me that the delay was caused by the need to strengthen the roof of the car park.
    We now look forward to this evening and see what goes wrong next

  3. dracardweig says:

    No doubt the total bill is going to be nearer to £50miion. Although there seems to be plenty of drama in the ‘refurbishment’ and with Brick minus Brick, where is the drama (plays) on stage?
    Where is the Warehouse Theatre when we need it? Buried I guess.

  4. David Wickens says:

    “‘Naysayers said it couldn’t be done,’ said Newman.”
    If Mr Newman was to research this website he would see that I contributed to an extensive article on Fairfield Halls on 3 Nov 2015 which explained why the works could not realistically be done within a two-year programme.
    Mr Newman cannot rewrite history and his assertion about “naysayers” is completely wrong, and my reasoned assessment was entirely correct.
    For the benefit of your Council Tax Payers and the Borough in general, you really need to listen to people who have some appropriate experience before you get the council into even more difficulties.
    The problem is, it may already be too late.

  5. Anthony Mills says:

    Having experienced those dreadfully worn out and very painful seats a few years ago I would have thought their replacement would be the very first priority for attracting bums, though we appear to have plenty of those in charge… I certainly won’t be back till they are changed and I doubt many others will put up with them for long either. They were and will continue to be a notorious disincentive.

    • David Mogoh says:

      What a complete and utter waste of money.
      I drove past today and the cladding on the front of the bulding is just as it always has been and there were noticably time worn markings still on the stone work near the entrance. To find out that the seating hasn’t been replaced, for all these £millions and years spent???
      No.. no way. This is one huge con. This is nothing more than a £1 million 3 month “refurb” spread over 3 years and 41 times overpriced.

      I will reserve final judgement until I visit, but I’m almost too embarassed to do so!

  6. Chris says:

    This entire piece reads like an April Fool’s joke. Please tell me it is.

    I refuse to believe that a 41 million quid refurbishment does not include new seats. Seats for which money was given anyway.

  7. davidjl2014 says:

    Absolutely fantastic article. I attended the relaunch of the Ashcroft on Monday and it was a disaster.I was probably the only living person there from the opening in 1962. I was the little boy in the picture presenting flowers to the Queen Mother on the opening night and that photo was displayed for over 50 years in the Sun Lounge. I’m proud of that, but the fact it’s now been removed doesn’t bother me much, but sadly this once icon of Croydon still remains a dinosaur. It proves, once again, that “brother” Newman and his Greenhorns know absolutely nothing about to oversee and endorse the administration needed to run the Borough of Croydon of which they have been elected to represent. Everyone involved in this fiasco should be utterly ashamed of themselves. Tom Piper (The General Manager), John Aston (The Mayor) were proud people when Fairfield opened in 1962. Tony Newman and his Councillors should be hanging their heads in shame. But from what I saw at the Ashcroft reopening, they were happy to bury their snouts in the trough and continue to be paid handsomely for doing it.

  8. davidjl2014 says:

    Apparently, I have since learnt that the reason behind the fact that the millions spent on this refurbishment were largely used for asbestos removal issues and in consequence public areas (i.e. seating) suffered. Surely anyone planning to refurbish or trying to modernize ANY property built in the 1950/60’s would have taken that into consideration when formulating the budget.
    It’s obvious now this was underestimated. The result of this is now there for us all to see.
    This Labour Council now already unashamedly looks as if it was too, built by asbestos. Outdated and dangerous. I find myself asking why are there are so many individuals living in Croydon who continue to endorse them through the ballot box? Fairfield Halls refurbishment costing millions is now a reality placed before our very eyes. Another example of our self elected,council, ridiculing us for their own socialist means. Not what local councils were intended for. But do Newman and his ignorant cronies care? Answers on a post card to “Cost A Mint Walk”

  9. Mike Buckley says:

    Well, as predicted, we did fight among ourselves last night as on arrival 40 minutes early, many disabled people found that the reservations they had made for one of the three (actually there are four marked spaces, so somebody should tell them!) disabled parking spaces were worth less than the phone call made to “ensure” them!
    In all I would guess that there were 25 disabled persons fighting for the spaces, Fairfiled management were noticeable by their absence and a guy on some sort of duty outside was chearfully washing his hands of the whole fiesco on the basis that it was The Council’s fault, they designed it.

    Later a Council rfepresentative on site to witness how the much publicised event was going (so well!) told the duty person to take responsibility for the chaos. As all this happened many of us took the law into our own hands and just parked on the vast expanse of tarmac created where there was once a pleasant environment of shrubs and trees. What was this tarmac for, if it wasn’t for parking on?

    Inside, while the disabled public battled, a council official gave out cards saying you cannot park here, go away and find one of the marked car parks some 10 to 20 minutes walk away, and letting patrons know that the much proclaimed 400 space car park was not yet open, nor would it be in 2019, there were no signs to direct people to the correct floor or doorway entrance, no signs to direct people to the toilets, bar, cafe, indeed anything, other than on the lift – oh! and one of these was not working so the other was packed to overflowing.

    One official, asked where floor 2 and doorway 3 was, said, I THINK its down there, pointing; indeed it was so I was lucky, though less so with programmes which had run out…

    The Concert, which was well presented by the musicians started 15 minutes late, no doubt due to all the chaos with a long-winded speach by somebody who had clearly been briefed that all was good and wonderful at Fairfield, despite the worn out seats from yesteryear.

    Oh, I forgot to mention that some bright spark had decided to put a stage down in the Foyer where we used to sit and eat and then to allow two school performances to take place in front of it, thus reducing the walking space to get to the stairs to one person at a time – unbelievable, why on earth were the performers not on the stage?

  10. Mike Buckley says:

    Has safety at Fairfield Halls been considered, I wondered, as I trudged very slsowly down one of the two stairway exits along with hundreds of other people.

    If both of the two lifts had been working it would have made little difference, though fortunately the stair well was not filled with smoke, just a smell like urine.

    In a fire or emergency evacuation scenario there would most certainly have been casualties, many casualties.

    Are there any other exits for emergency use – one to a Bistro, I saw, was clearly chained and out of use, I saw no signs to any emergency exit, in fact, come to think it, signs of any sort were noticeable by their absence, but there again, did it matter? We all know the way as we have been there before and it hasnt changed much, other than with a lick of paint and, thankfully, the broken glass light shades in the Concert Hall now all replaced.

    An official when questioned about signage said we are getting round to doing that shortly! I thought they were supposed to be open, not still getting ready!

  11. Nick Davies says:

    Well some people like it:

    How much of this is lifted word for word from the press release?

    • It does read as if Olly Wainwright has been given a personal guided tour by Colm Lacey (who, as per usual, is a bit vague on the detail… £30million budget, £11million over spend, all comes to, ahhh, £42million!), and not bothered to do any other research.
      But there will be a reason why Wainwright has been dragged in for this special treatment by Croydon Council/BxB/Negrini and Lacey.
      Wainwright is an old mate of Finn Williams, who has a planning business called Public Practice. Williams is an ex-member of the Croydon planning department – which is, remember, in part responsible for the shambles that is the Fairfield Halls refurbishment.
      Hence the unmitigated puffery in the Grauniad.
      Someone really ought to write a letter to their editor…

    • davidjl2014 says:

      The article is simply a exercise in progressive journalism that simply bends the truth. Inside Croydon tells it as it is and I take my hat off to them.

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