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'It beggars belief!' - Ashton Town Hall repair bill has more than doubled

The latest estimated cost to repair Ashton Town Hall “beggars belief” after it was revealed it has more than doubled in cost, a meeting heard.

The cost for building works is now estimated to be around £8m – more than two times the original estimate of £3.4m in 2020. Coun Doreen Dickinson, leader of the Conservative group, slammed council bosses for their spending of public money, questioning why so much time has gone on without work being done.

An executive cabinet report stated this increased cost was due to extremely high levels of construction cost inflation between 2020 and 2023, further deterioration in the overall condition of the building, scaffolding and tenting, as well as additional stonework and timber work. 

Coun Dickinson told the latest town hall meeting: “With Ashton town hall, five years ago, the works were £3.4m and the recommendation saying the works would limit any further deterioration. Five years later, with no works carried out, we are now being told that £3.4m will only cover basics and the full cost is estimated at £8m. 

“The report says the cost increase is due to extremely high levels of construction costs inflation between 2020 and 2023. I have found reference to construction costs increasing 38 per cent from Feb 2020 to Feb 2024 – so at that rate a project of 3.4m would now be 4.7m. Even accepting further deterioration, how we get to £8m beggars belief.”

She went on to suggest to Dukinfield Town Hall that the work should be put out to tender rather than using contractor Robertson Group to do the work in a bid for a cheaper deal. Coun Dickinson added that she felt this was a ‘de ja vu moment’ citing a similar issue with the civic hall roof in Stalybridge which shot up in cost from £750,000 to £3.5m.

In response, council leader Coun Ged Cooney said: “I went around the town hall in Ashton and we have made mistakes. Because of the cuts, when we closed some of our public buildings, we stopped going back in to check them – and we should have been.

“Building construction prices did not go up like the rest of inflation. We will decide, no one else, if we go ahead with that contract and it is properly scrutinised. 

“Everyone knows deterioration happens and it gets worse. We might say something costs around £1m or whatever it is, by the time you actually get round to it later, you’re in trouble with a major problem.

“You only have to look at Hyde library, you go in there and there is nothing left of it.”

Coun Cooney added that going to tender on every job the council was a problem in the past that led to legal action against the council as well as construction work not being completed properly. 

The executive cabinet agreed at the end of March to use the £3.4m of grant money to address immediate health and safety issues associated with the risk of falling masonry from the façade and parapet. The report added that this would maintain some momentum in respect of physical works utilising the secured Levelling Up Fund grant, which needs to be utilised by 31 March 2025, without the risk of future works being substantially higher.

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