Revealed: Rising costs of Camden Town Hall refurb

Work began on Camden Town Hall in 1934. The roof being constructed. Picture: AJ Thomas Archive

Work began on Camden Town Hall in 1934. The roof being constructed. Picture: AJ Thomas Archive - Credit: AJ Thomas Archive

Camden Council should be more transparent about why the costs to refurbish its town hall have soared to £73million, according to a councillor on the steering committee for the project.

The latest figures were revealed this week as developer Lendlease was awarded the £66m contract for the work on the Grade-II listed building. The initial costing in 2016 was £44.2m. Earlier this year a steering group was told the work would cost £63m. Now, papers published on Monday show it has risen to £73m.

A Camden Council spokesperson said £6m of the increase was due to delays and changes to the plans as a result of Covid-19, but did not expand on what these changes were. In addition the £4m is for work that has been brought forward to kit out rentable work space.

Papers detailing the decision taken by council officers say the project is self-funding over 30 years. As well as revenue from the Camden Centre and registry office, two floors of office space will provide rent for the council.

Councillor Steve Adams (Con, Belsize), who sits on the steering group set up to scrutinise the scheme, said the council has not been open about the reasoning.

In August, he called for an independent audit into the financial viability and construction of the project.

He said: “There is no justification for a £10m hike. They may be able to say there is some Covid costs. The prelims may be going on longer. But we need to know why. The steering committee is fed by these superficial reports. We are supposed to nod and be grateful for them.

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“[I’m] not allowed to see the information that shows whether the information that is put to me is valid.

“I understand that these things won’t be shared broad and wide with the public but I do think that the members of the council ought to be slightly more comfortable with higher levels of detail in an explanation.”

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The report says that Lambert Smith Hampton, which has been advising the council, says it is “too early to revise rental forecasts” in light of the pandemic. It adds that there has been interest in the rentable space since March. The report reveals that council officers looked at scaling down the project during the pause in construction.

The steering group behind the project will meet on October 14, but the press and public will not be able to attend, according to the council, as it is an “internal governance meeting”.

At least 22 apprenticeships for Camden residents will be created by the project, as well as six work placements. The building is also designed to comply with the second tier of BREEAM ratings for environmental sustainability.

Cllr Richard Olszewski (Lab, Fortune Green), Camden’s finance chief who is in charge of the project, said the council’s auditors were aware of individual figures and responding to Cllr Adams, added that a breakdown of costs may be provided at the next steering group meeting on October 14.

“We will see where the discussions go. We try to make sure the steering group is informative,” he said.