Restoration of York Buildings in Wellington Place was never about making money it was about regeneration of the town and bringing a long abandoned building back in to use.
That’s what Councillor Peter Chowney told his colleagues on Hastings Borough Council’s (HBC) cabinet last night as they unanimously voted through a plan to increase the budget on the project by another £166,000 to cover ‘unforeseen’ costs.
Redeveloping York Buildings was… “an amazing piece of foresight..”Councillor Colin Fitzgerald, Deputy Leader of Hastings Borough Council
The original budget for the works was £757,000, this was increased to £846,000 in September 2019 and last night’s approval of additional spending brings the cost of the refurbishment to £1,011,000 a little over one third more than originally planned.
Each of the six flats that is being created within the grade two listed building will have cost £168,000.
The council’s Chief Finance Officer Peter Grace described the refurbishment as a, “significant regeneration project”. He explained to councillors that it was not uncommon for ‘unforeseen’ costs to arise when dealing with a listed building and he blamed delays around the Covid-19 lockdowns for some of the cost overruns. The works on York Building are now expected to go on until July next year.
Other reasons why more cash is needed include an additional £28,211 for structural works and making good, £4,620 for fire protection requirements throughout the building to meet latest regulations and for wood beetle treatments. Additional asbestos removal will cost £9,629 and gas, water and electrical utility works are £6,180 which the report says were, “omitted from contract costs”.
Councillors will be told that while the contract was for internal conversion works, once underway it became clear that external structures, windows, cills and gullies also required maintenance. The additional costs
have been estimated at £45,980 which includes £13,000 for the cost of replacing and repairing some of the mathematical tiles on the building, Mr Grace’s report says this work was not originally envisaged when this project was first approved in 2017. There is also damage to the newer windows which require what the report calls ‘extensive repair works’ costing £14,995. The leaking lead cills will cost £10,650 and replacement of the lead valleys a further £5,244.
Councillor Peter Chowney told members: “This was never intended to be income generating, it was a way of bringing a long abandoned building back in to use and to provide six dwellings in the town centre. It is a regeneration project!”
He told councillors that while the building is listed it is not actually of any architectural significance and the grade two listing is as a result of the ‘mathematical’ tiling on the front. In fact he explained that surveyors who have examined the building have said that whoever built the structure originally clearly had, “no understanding of the principles of construction.”
Councillor Andy Batsford queried whether the council was actually getting value for money from the contractors and others involved in the project? he was told by Mr Grace that a firm of Chartered Architects was overseeing the project and the contractors were known to the council and was a firm that HBC has confidence in.
Deputy Council Leader Councillor Colin Fitzgerald told the meeting he believed redeveloping York Buildings was, “an amazing piece of foresight”.
He said the redevelopment of York Buildings will start to create a mixed economy, bringing housing and people back in to the town centre: “Our bottom line is about more than profit, it is great to see us continuing with the regeneration we have talked about,” he told the meeting.
HBC borrowed the money to renovate the upper floors of York Buildings from the Public Works Loan Board over a period of 40 years and that will cost £40,141 per year to repay. The council originally estimated rents from the six flats to bring in £40,200 a year although last night councillors were told the expectation now is that figure will be higher.
“This project is zero cost to the council,” Mr Chowney told the meeting.
Mr Grace concluded: “This project was only ever likely to be viable while borrowing rates remain at their historically low levels and this remains the case.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted more than ever the need to transform town centres and include more homes in them – thus enhancing the vibrancy and sustainability of the local economy. The need for these new homes remains as high as ever.”