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Call for inquiry as Civic halls cost set to surge past £40 million

Wolverhampton | News | Published:

The revamp of Wolverhampton Civic Halls faces further delays and is set to cost an extra £5 million – taking the total bill to more than four times its original budget.

Wolverhampton Civic halls is set for further delays and costs are set to increase again

It is understood the additional cash, which would take the final price tag beyond £43 million, may be needed to cover extra expenses on the project caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Council bosses agreed to ask the Government for the funding at a meeting last week.

The delays mean work is now unlikely to finish on schedule in autumn 2021.

Construction firm Willmott Dixon has yet to sign contracts for the major works having taken over after Shaylor Group went bust, although the council says a deal is "imminent".

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Opposition Conservative councillors in the city today called for an official inquiry into the council's handling of the scheme.

Councillor Jonathan Yardley, vice chair of the authority’s audit and risk committee, said: "We believe it is the only way we can get answers to some pretty big and significant questions on this major project.

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"The people of Wolverhampton deserve to know the truth."

An independent inquiry in June 2018 criticised the council's handling of the project, saying its management of the scheme was "inadequate" and that initial budget projections were unrealistic.

The 82-year-old Grade II listed halls originally closed in December 2015 for a £10 million refurbishment. They were due to reopen in November 2016, then March 2018, and autumn this year - before the most recent opening date of autumn 2021 was set.

However, work stopped on the North Street site in May, with council bosses saying they had been forced to "hibernate" the project due to the coronavirus lockdown. They hope workers will return to the site in the coming weeks.

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Impact

Wolverhampton Council spokesman Oliver Bhurrut, said the Civic Halls project was "even more important" to the city's economic recovery post-Covid.

He said: "The council has continued to engage with Willmott Dixon Interiors to find ways to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 which the enforced pause in works will have on the programme’s cost and timeline.

"We do not yet fully know how long Covid-19 will delay the reopening of the venue."

Mr Bhurrut added that prior to the shutdown the firm had been conducting work including carrying out site set up, expanding the hoarding area, demolition, drainage repairs, backfilling trial holes, placement of orders for statutory utilities bodies, and opening-up and investigative works for building steel framework repairs.

Last month Councillor Harman Banger, who was the city's economy chief at the time, said the delay to the project was "beyond our control".

The project is now flagged as a 'red' risk, having been moved up the traffic light-style scale from amber.

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