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Opinion: Civic Hall Refurb Disaster has let Wolverhampton Residents Down
Cllr Ellis Turrell is the Conservative Councillor for Tettenhall Wightwick. He shares his view on the “shambolic” management of the Civic refurbishment project.
Mention the Wolverhampton Civic Hall, or “the Civic” as it is more affectionately known, to anyone in the city and you will probably get the same response:
“Shambolic”. “A national embarrassment”. “Another iconic building in Wolverhampton gone.”
The fact is that the Labour-led city council has turned what was a much-needed modernisation of the Civic Hall and Wulfrun Hall into a very expensive nightmare. And the reputational damage to the council after eight years of delays and ever-increasing costs will be permanent.
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What began as a £10.4 million project in 2014 that would take just two years to complete soon became something far beyond the capabilities of a local authority to manage effectively and efficiently.
Eight years’ later, the most recent budget stands at almost £50 million, with a £5 million budget increase approved in secret by Labour councillors in September. Multiple failings along the way have contributed to the delays, but council bosses promise the Civic Hall will finally reopen in June 2023.
Opposition councillors have been holding the controlling Labour group to account over this disastrous project and will be asking the council’s external auditors to conduct a full Public Interest Report into the project to identify what went wrong and how the same mistakes can be avoided in future.
The Civic Hall opened in 1938, and for many decades it was a venue renowned across the country for its fantastic acoustics and atmosphere. It attracted the world’s biggest bands and comedians and was the home of the Grand Slam of Darts.
In 2014, the council decided to undertake an ambitious refurbishment programme after years of poor maintenance and neglect. In 2017, structural problems emerged after inadequate surveys were completed at the start of the project, and asbestos was discovered. The entire project had to be reconfigured and costs ballooned to £36 million.
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An internal audit report conducted by the council in 2018 branded their management of the scheme as “inadequate” with unrealistic budget projections. Then in 2019, the construction group Shaylor collapsed, meaning the council had to find a new contractor to finish the job and the budget increased once again to £43 million.
It is welcome news that AEG Presents, a global entertainment company, will be operating the venue when it opens next year, and it is absolutely vital for the city that the Civic Hall is a success. The financial impact on the city centre from having this key asset shut for so many years is difficult to overstate. Many shops and businesses depend on the footfall that the Civic Hall used to bring, and if the city centre is ever to recover it needs the crowds back at the Civic as soon as possible.
Many residents in Wolverhampton have little faith in the ability of the council to deliver a major project again. The Civic Hall refurbishment has made headlines for all the wrong reasons, but it is hoped that the end is now in sight and the whole city can get behind making the Civic Hall a success story once more.
Written by Cllr Ellis Turrell, the Conservative Councillor for Tettenhall Wightwick
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