Redeveloping York Buildings in Hastings town centre has been an object lesson in how ‘not to do things,’ and risks damaging the council’s reputation according to one councillor.
Earlier in the month members of the Hasting Borough Council’s (HBC) ruling cabinet approved an additional £166,000 on the renovation of York Buildings to cover unforeseen costs. It was the second time councillors have upped the budget for the project having increased it from £757,000 to £846,000 in September 2019. The latest approval brings the total spend on the project to £1,011,000 – an increase of one third (33 per cent).
“This is unfortunate from a reputational point of view because it is playing to a stereotype; other people’s money, wasting money, over paying for stuff and all the smoke and mirrors that surround councils and building contracts so it is a sensitive area,” Councillor John Rankin told the meeting.
Redeveloping the upper floors of the building to create six one bedroomed flats was being discussed again when HBC met in full session on Monday. Councillors heard that it will likely NOT be possible to rent the flats out at local authority rates because the cost of repaying the additional loans that have been required mean higher levels of rents will have to be charged meaning the six flats will no longer be able to be classified as ‘affordable housing’.
Additional items include provision of gas, water and electricity at £6,180 – items a report to cabinet said were, “omitted from contract costs”.
At Monday’s meeting Councillor Rankin, declared an interest pointing out that his business was in property and said he was also building flats in the town centre, he told the meeting: “Lets use this as a learning experience on how not to do things. It has not been project managed, you have given it to the architects… that’s the mistake you have made because architects are very fine people but they are not not project managers… you have no clerk of works, no project manager you are offloading it to an architectural practise and the result is – and it’s a well know fact in the property industry – if you do that you’ll have escalating costs.
“There are always contingencies in building works but having said that we have already had a big price change in this project… there is clearly something wrong and I would say from experience that it’s because you are not project managing this project properly.”
For councillor Rob Lee it was about mistakes being repeated “Part of the issue is about how HBC approaches projects because we’ve seen this many times where a project comes, it’s costed, it’s planned and yet it always seems to come back to cabinet with increased costs time and time again and its entirely unacceptable.”
Councillor Peter Chowney said the fact the building was listed had been an issue. Bug he told councillors the redevelopment of York Buildings was “zero cost” to the council because the rents being paid would cover the cost of the borrowing. Money has been borrowed from the Public Works Loan Board and will be repaid over a 40 year term.