CROYDON IN CRISIS: The ‘fiasco’ of Brick by Brick’s bungled £70m refurbishment of the arts venue gets worse, with the latest admission of failures from a cabinet member. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Ollie “Shit Show” Lewis, the council cabinet member responsible for the Fairfield Halls, has admitted that in the course of the three-year and vastly over-budget refurbishment of the arts venue, Brick by Brick didn’t even manage to replace the 60-year-old centre’s windows.
The replacement of the building’s original windows – with modern double-glazing to help with the heating bills – was a key component of the planned works back in those cheerily optimistic days of 2015, when the council was told that the whole project would take just two years and cost a “mere” £30million.
Six years and another £40million (at least) later, and replacement windows are now admitted to be among the litany of upgrades and improvements that were promised would be delivered during the works, but never were.
Lewis was forced into the admission in an answer to a question from another councillor, though he did his utmost to dissemble and deceive, even trying to claim that “existing windows have been refurbished as brief” [sic].
But the brief was straightforward: to replace the venue’s windows.
A council report from October 2015 was signed off by the then council chief executive, Jo “Negreedy” Negrini, along with former deputy leader Alison Butler and the then cabinet member for art and shit, Tim Godfrey (Who he? Ed). What Brick by Brick was being asked to deliver was unambiguous.
“The design approach for the Fairfield Halls is practical and heritage-led. It currently proposes improving the appearance of the building by… Replacing the windows”, the report said.
In his response to a question from Conservative councillor Robert Ward, which has been published on the council website today, the best Lewis could offer was, “All existing window frames were stripped to the bare metal and redecorated both internally and externally.”
Which is nice. But a long way short of £70million nice.
Lewis’s response helpfully confirmed that new windows had been installed at the Fairfield Halls, in the new build sections “namely the southern Arnhem rebuild and the northern extension”. There is also “[n]ew glazing and doors to Level 2 roof terrace and bistro within existing building”. It is probably small consolation to the Council Tax-payers of Croydon, who will be picking up the bill for Brick by Brick’s crass incompetence, that they did at least use new windows in the new sections of the building.
The Fairfield Halls opened in 1962. Apart from the occasional necessary repair and reglazing, its windows have never been significantly upgraded.
When it began in 2016, the refurbishment project was intended to update and modernise the Fairfield venues, making them fit for use in the 21st Century.
The works were planned in meticulous detail, with an assessment report costing £600,000 by building consultants Mott MacDonald outlining what needed doing.
It’s impossible to say whether that report included recommending the replacement of all the old windows, because senior council officials now claim (oh so conveniently) that they have lost the Mott MacDonald report.
Now, despite his erstwhile colleagues’ unambiguous report in 2015 when they said that all the Fairfield Halls windows could and would be replaced, Councillor Lewis is trying to claim that this was not in fact possible.
“The existing windows have a glazing bed depth that is too narrow to incorporate double glazed units and due to both the buildings [sic] local listing and budget constraints they could not be replaced.”
Note that: “budget constraints”, on a project where we know that they went over-budget by at least £40million.
Some of that money appears to have been spent on putty. Yes.
Lewis’s lame response continues, “The window frames were comprehensively refurbished, which included de-glazing and re-glazing (in improved toughened laminated glass) some of the frames, including many of the glazed spandrel panels to east and west elevations where glass had failed/cracked, etc.
“Glazing refurbishment to the existing windows including the replacement of all window putty and large areas of failed hardwood timber beading as well as piecing-in new sections of galvanised steel mullions, transoms and cills where the existing had corroded/failed.
“All existing window frames were stripped to the bare metal and redecorated both internally and externally.”
Of the three Town Hall chiefs who delivered the 2015 Fairfield Halls refurbishment report, only Butler remains at the council. A cursory read through the document only serves to highlight how little of what was promised six years ago has actually been delivered – giving much credence to the trade paper The Stage’s recent headline which described the refurb as a “£70m fiasco”.
“The design will be of exceptionally high quality to enable a transformation of the building aesthetically and commercially, whilst being sympathetic to the original design and heritage,” the report to the cabinet stated.
“The aim is to create a beautiful, highly flexible arts building which is commercially self-sufficient.” Oh dear…
And it also promised that “The development will deliver: A scheme of national architectural significance”; “A unique and vibrant mix of uses including new homes, cultural spaces, educational facilities, offices, shops and restaurants”; and “A variety of public art and opportunities for creative expression – a modern, attractive and culturally flexible space for Croydon.”
Perhaps another councillor might want to ask Lewis what happened to all those undelivered promises, too.
Croydon is London’s Borough of Culture 2023.
Read more: Brick by Brick and the 18 documents officers want kept secret
Read more: Fairfield Halls project never went to competitive tender
Read more: Kakistocracy: Butler forced into £6m bail-out of Brick by Brick
Read more: A level of ineptitude which would be tolerated nowhere else
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