More delays likely as it's revealed Civic Halls refurbishment cost has risen by another £5 million

Refurbishment of the Civic Halls will cost almost five times its original estimate after the cost rose to £48 million.

An artist's impression of how the refurbished Wolverhampton Civic Hall will look.
An artist's impression of how the refurbished Wolverhampton Civic Hall will look.

The venue, which had been set to open later this year after first closing in 2015, had a price tag of £43m after several delays but that has now risen again by £5m.

And it was today announced the refurbishment work will now be spearheaded by AEG Presents, the company that will run the site, instead of previous contractors Willmott Dixon Interiors.

It is likely to mean further delays to the project. An official handover date will be announced soon, but there is still no reopening date.

Wolverhampton Council said AEG Presents will be responsible for the “finishing touches” as the refurbishment nears completion.

Councillor Stephen Simkins, cabinet member for city economy, said: “We’re delighted that world leading live entertainment company AEG are so close to taking the keys to the Civic Halls which we estimate will boost the local economy by approximately £10 million a year.

“With a partner of the stature of AEG, we are confident that crowds will flock from far and wide to visit the halls for decades to come. We expect to announce an official handover date shortly. All additional associated costs of the contract variation totalling £5m have been covered by Wolverhampton Council.

“The council continues to take legal advice to protect its position, ensuring value for money and that the terms of the existing construction contract are met.”

Councillor Wendy Thompson, leader of the opposition Conservatives, criticised the delays.

“It’s taken almost eight years, it’s gone from £10 million to now £48 million and the whole thing has helped to blight the city," she said.

“It’s blighted the city centre, it’s been very detrimental and harmful to staff in shops and officers and has put people off coming into Wolverhampton. There should have been a thriving night-time economy, and even now I’ve been checking listings for touring shows and I couldn’t find any mention of Wolverhampton except for the Grand Theatre.

“Where are the shows going to come from to put on there? All of the main touring shows have got their dates already booked up. We have waited to see it finished and they have had an investigative report, a lessons learned report which they have learned nothing from. Could they have done any worse? I don’t think they could have. Incompetent? Completely.”

Steve Homer, chief executive of AEG Presents, said last year he hoped the venue would be open at the start of September this year – with events starting up then before the delays.

Tory Councillor Ellis Turrell, vice-chair of the scrutiny board, said: “People across the city have had enough of the council’s total mismanagement of the Civic Halls refurbishment.

“They will be appalled to hear about yet another multi-million pound increase to the capital budget, especially during a very challenging financial situation for many families with the soaring cost of living.

“To call this entire project shambolic would be an understatement. From the very beginning, it was clear that the Labour-run council were way out of their depth. There are serious questions for Wolverhampton Council to answer, and that is why we will be scrutinising this latest setback at scrutiny board.”

Since the venue closed for improvements in December 2015, the project has been hit by a series of major setbacks, including the discovery of asbestos inside the building and the original contractor going bust.

The cost was originally supposed to be around £10 million and the venue was due to be reopened in November 2016. However, work ground to a halt after structural problems with the venue were found to be far worse than first thought.

A Robert Plant concert at Wolverhampton Civic Hall in 2014

Timeline of the refurbishment

March 2015: Wolverhampton Council announces plans to close the Civic halls for a major revamp, saying the famous old venue is no longer fit for purpose. The cost is put at £10.4 million, including an increased capacity and a new balcony for the Wulfrun Hall. Bosses say it will be fully reopened for the Grand Slam of Darts in November 2016.

December 2015: the Civic halls close for what is now a £14.4 million refurbishment that bosses say will “set the venue up for the next 100 years”. It includes plans for new bars, a new ceiling and extended stages, with capacity increased to 2,500 seats and 3,500 standing. The venue is expected to fully reopen in March 2018.

January 2017: The completion date is pushed back to October 2018 after structural problems emerge. Council bosses also promise to find a new home for Civic’s historic organ.

August 2017: A further delay is announced following the discovery of what council bosses call “small amount of asbestos”.

October 2017: The venue temporarily reopens for a series of shows, including the Grand Slam of Darts and a gig by rock legend Robert Plant.

November 2017: Wolverhampton Council announces it has scrapped the original scheme after major issues emerge, including the need for a new roof, new electrics and a substantial asbestos removal programme. It is revealed that the project is likely to cost at least £36m, prompting bosses to consider ditching the revamp entirely.

January 2018: It emerges that work on the halls had to be halted due to engineers discovering its foundations were in danger of being crushed.

January 2018: Councillors approve an extra £23.6m for the scheme and announce a new opening date of autumn 2020.

June 2018: A report brands the council’s project management of the scheme “inadequate” and reveals initial budget projections were unrealistic. Tory councillors accuse the authority of demonstrating “appalling neglect”.

June 2018: It emerges the council has spent almost £2 million on “design and trial fees” for the project.

July 2018: Wolverhampton Council’s then managing director, Keith Ireland, says he has no idea when the project will be finished and how much it will cost. He told councillors that “intrusive surveys” had not been done at the start of the project, admitting: “This is pretty disastrous for us.”

July 2018: Council bosses reveal they are considering legal action against previous advisers involved in the project.

February 2019: The Civic's 80-year-old organ is dumped after being wrecked by asbestos.

March 2019: The council announces the halls will reopen in autumn 2021 at a cost of £38.1m.

June 2019: Construction group Shaylor – hired to do the revamp – collapses into administration, leaving the council seeking a new contractor.

September 2019: Willmott Dixon Interiors takes over the scheme and sets an opening date of "late 2021".

November 2020: The opening date is pushed back to "early 2022" amid delays linked to the Covid pandemic.

March 2021: AEG Presents agrees a 25-year deal to run the venue, in what council chiefs call "a real coup for the city".

September 2021: It emerges The Slade Rooms, which ran as part of the Civic halls for a decade, will not reopen having closed at the start of the pandemic.

October 2021: Council chiefs reveal the work had hit further delays after a 14th century cobbled road was unearthed beneath the main building. They confirm a handover date of "late April or early May".

November 2021: After a visit to the venue, the vice-chair of the council's audit and risk committee, Jonathan Yardley, says he was left "shocked to the core" by the lack of progress.

January 2022: The cost of the revamp is now expected to be around £41m.

April 2022: The council's economy boss Steve Simkins tells a council meeting that as far as the Civic is concerned, "the only deadline that really matters is opening night".

June 2022: The date for the handover to AEG Presents is moved to "autumn 2022".

September 2022: Bosses say that due to a "contract variation" the cost has risen by another £5m. The council also announces that AEG Presents will be taking over the final stages of the revamp. No reopening date is given.

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News