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I’ll Huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow Northgate House down.

January 10, 2012

I attended Calderdale MBC cabinet meeting 9th January 2012. An enlightened move by the current coalition council was to instigate a public question time before the cabinet get down to the real business on the agenda. Beginning at 6PM the first 30 minutes is given over and any questions are, if possible given a verbal answer and then within 7 days a written, usually more concise reply is posted to the questioner. It works well and is I think something to be encouraged and for the foresight of the council, something to be congratulated on. I’m not so convinced though that certain conservative members are such big fans – although they do make use of it as questioners -and I am fairly certain that officers find it an intolerable bind. So that’s good enough for me to applaud and encourage it.

I went along as I knew some folk intended asking questions about the councils proposed demolition and re-location of the Central Library. The first half hour was dominated by very valid questions about council funding for Calder Valley Club, a club for disabled adults and I think it fair to say they got their point over really well. Unusually for these occasions the question segment of the meeting was allowed to run over and stopped just over the one hour mark.

It was obvious that Councillors did not answer the important question “will the public be asked if they want the Library demolishing or not?” with a straight forward yes or No. This wound up some members of the public somewhat but it was something said by Councillor Ashley Evans that got me thinking.

As part of the consultation so far, the public instead of being asked “do we want a new library?” are being asked “what we want inside the new building”. A bit of a cart before the horse scenario. But there are some supporting documents available alongside this part of the consultation and Councillor Evans referred to these as costing for the refurb of Northgate House and The Library.

Well I have had a look at the first one of these documents Northgate House – Estimate for Full Refurbishment.

Firstly the documenty was written in 2004, 8 years ago and is only 4 pages long.

The first question I would ask is;

  • What maintenance has been undertaken in the 8 years since this document was written?

I belive this is an important and overlooked question as some of the work mentioned here is clearly from neglect in the regular maintenance of a public assets. Now CMBC have a growing reputation for this neglect that is beginning to bite them in the backside. So far neglect has been noticed in

  • Northgate House
  • Halifax Central Library
  • The Piece Hall
  • Sterne Mill Bridge
  • Wainhouse Terrace
  • Elland Public Baths
  • The Halifax Borough Market

In the case of Sterne Mill Bridge and The Elland Public Baths this neglect has been used as justification to close the structures to public access.

Any work that has been done since then is money taken off the bottom line of the £15m being claimed as the figure to refurb Northgate House.

We know for instance that in the last 5 years the boilers have already been replaced yet this figure does not seem to appear as a subtraction from the total at any point. Boilers of the size required will carry a hefty price tag and have been included in the estimates.

Surplus to requirements

Initially we were told that the buildings were in such a poor state of repair that demolition was the preferred alternative. These buildings are only 30 years old and so questions were asked about this in the local press. In particular the question “if they are so poor then where are the signs stating so as required by HSE?”

Then towards the end of 2011, Councillor Janet Battye the leader of the council wrote an open letter in which she said that Northgate House was surplus to requirements. This is interesting because in the document “Northgate House – Estimate for Full Refurbishment” there is mention of a change to the Council’s brief to include the potential for a “higher occupancy rate”. If we no longer need this work to be done then this should also be reflected in the prices being suggested for refurb – funnily the estimate only ever goes up.

Internal Fees

Included in the estimates are Planning Fees and Building Regulation Fees.

These fees are payable to Calderdale MBC! They are internal charges and so do not actually mean the council will be paying out any of our money – another cost to come off the bottom line!

Temporary Buildings

Also included is the cost for temporary buildings to house staff whilst the work is being conducted. The alternative to refurbishment is demolition – if we demolish the building the staff will be housed elsewhere (CMBC claim they have enough extra capacity elsewhere to cope with this) Therefore this cost is a constant and so can be removed from the bottom line as it isn’t an extra cost. (Are you getting the idea there is a theme here?)

Best Value

I understand it is law to put such a massive scheme as this out to European tender, this is to ensure the public get best value for money. As work is apparently very scarce at the moment due to the recession we can expect very keen prices to be tended and the Estimate given by CMBC to be reduced.

Another facet to this is a letter written to the Halifax Courier by a former councillor. This gentleman claims that instead of £15m being the figure for refurb, contractors have suggested the figure would nearer to £6m! Also although I haven’t mantioned the figures for refurb of the Central Library yet, the figure from CMBC is £6m – the figure from contractors is supposed to be £3m!

Should CMBC go ahead and demolish then they intend to lease space in the new Broad Street Complex for a “Customer First” facility at £300,000 per annum for a minimum 20 year period. This (without taking into account any future rises from the developer) means another £6m to come off the bottom line of the refurbishment!

Conclusion

I have only looked at the 4 page “Estimate” and there is to come a 90 odd page document to look at. But my conclusion is that these figures are heavily skewed towards helping CMBC justify it’s desire to demolish Northgate House.

There is a growing distrust of our council in Calderdale and the early management of this scheme and consultation is doing nothing to allay these fears.

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From → politics

One Comment
  1. Cllr Tim Swift permalink

    Mick, firstly congratulations on being one of the few people to attempt to seriously engage with the documents and issues around Northgate House. I don’t mean that to sound patronising – so many people have just looked at the headline figures and decided they know better without engaging with them.

    But can I point out that your first presumption about this document (ie that it dates from 2004) are wrong – as you read thruogh, you can see that this is a summary of work that’s been done over a number of years. The key starting point is the very large ‘feasibility study and options’ document which was produced in 2005 – this summarises the various attempts to update and amend the work in that document since (not for any nefarious reasons, but because the original work was pretty thorough but also pretty expensive, and it’s not sensible to commission a repeat unless there are compelling reasons).

    I’d also ask for ‘equal treatment’ in terms of judgement of sources. The main documents here are carried out by various professional organisations who are required to work to certain standards. That doesn’t mean they cannot be partial, or make mistakes, but it does mean they deserve at least an assumption of credibility. Yet you’re choosing to give equal or greater reliance on ” a letter written to the Halifax Courier by a former councillor”. You should perhaps ask what the grounds are for assuming this has greater credibility.

    Finally, and the last point I will make in this comment; the 2005 feasibility study was looking at a very different situation in terms of the overall property market, the assumptions about future Council / public sector employment levels, and the alternatives that were under consideration. You need to read it, and judge it, in that context.

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