EXCLUSIVE: The council’s blundering house-builders Brick by Brick face the threat of a multi-million-pound legal action in a payments dispute over the refurbishment of the town centre’s arts venue. By STEVEN DOWNES
The building contractors who carried out the refurbishment works on the Fairfield Halls are in “on-going discussions” with Brick by Brick in a dispute over unpaid fees for their work on the prestigious project.
Sources suggest that Vinci Construction UK Ltd are seeking further payments of as much as £9million for the work that they conducted in Croydon between 2017 and late 2019.
For reasons best known to themselves, in 2016 Croydon Council appointed their in-house house-builders Brick by Brick – a firm with no corporate experience of house-building, never mind large-scale refurb projects – to oversee the works on the council-owned Fairfield Halls.
It was around this time that things started to go horribly wrong.
The Halls were closed in June 2016 for what was supposed to be a £30million project that would take just two years.
The refurbishment was plagued by set-backs and delays.
Mott McDonald, one of the biggest employers in the borough and a civil engineering company with a global reputation, had helped to scope the Fairfield Halls and draw up the refurbishment plans. But in late 2018, Mott McDonald walked away from the Fairfield Halls. Neither the council nor Brick by Brick has ever explained the apparent breakdown in the working relationship. Sources close to the project have suggested it was in a dispute over costs and payments.
Company press releases and announcements in the trade press itemised key elements in the refurbishment which were still expected to be delivered, such as a 20,000 sqft art gallery (for which Croydon was awarded a £13million grant from regional development agency Coast2Capital) which has never been built and “a new college”, which was also dropped from the plans, as was the promised improved backstage access to enable bigger modern acts to perform at the Fairfield.
Those reports in spring 2017 still anticipated the project being completed by the end of 2018.
At the time, Colm Lacey, the over-promoted former council staffer who now styles himself as chief executive of Brick by Brick, came up with this piece of trademark bullshit: “The work will reveal and celebrate the heritage aspects of the building while also creating a new cultural offer befitting the ambition of the town.”
In hiring Vinci, the rookies at Brick by Brick were, at least, bringing in one of the big boys of the construction industry.
Vinci says that its UK-based companies turnover in the region of £2billion per year and employ around 9,000 people, all part of a €38.1billion turnover global outfit that operates in more than 100 countries around the world.
With asbestos blamed for delays in the Fairfield construction project, the Halls’ reopening had to be postponed five times, including cancelling a royal gala concert.
Eventually, last September, the Halls were finally handed over to venue managers BHLive. A somewhat terse press release issued by Vinci marked the occasion under the headline, “Vinci Construction UK delivers their promise on Fairfield Halls revamp”.
With building workers still on site conducting wiring and plastering work, the promised replacements for the venue’s 60-year-old seating still not fitted, and much of the back-of-house still covered in concrete dust and dirt, the Fairfield Halls reopened with council leader Tony Newman keen to take the credit in front of Dame Judi Dench and London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Typically, Newman was less-forthcoming, though, when it came to taking any responsibility for the 15-month delay in reopening and the mounting bills for the works, which the council was eventually forced to admit had ballooned to more than £43million.
Now it seems that the final reckoning could indeed be more than £50million, with the construction company confirming to Inside Croydon this week that they are “engaged in on-going and positive discussions” with their clients, Brick by Brick, over unpaid bills suggested to amount to £9million.
Vinci have not yet embarked on legal action to recover the amounts it believes are owed, though clearly that remains an option if an agreement cannot be reached.
Croydon Council was asked for a comment but refused to respond.
Croydon is London’s “Borough of Culture” in 2023.
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