LIBRARY DEAL NOT SEALED
So Birmingham is going to have a new Central Library in 2013, and the old one in Victoria Square will be bulldozed to make way for offices? That’s what we’re told, but Alan Clawley reckons there are plenty of grounds for caution.
The headline in Council’s propaganda sheet “Forward” on 26 November gave the impression that construction giant Carillion had landed a £193 million contract for the new library, but two emails I have since had from Clive Dutton – the city’s director of regeneration - paint a rather different picture.
The “NEC3” contract signed by the Council allows it to pay Carillion “only" £1.8 million and to call the rest of the deal off before it is obliged to pay them the £160.9 million construction cost.
And, although the Council has set a total budget of £193 million this does not all go to Carillion. The contractor is at present “only” guaranteed the £1.8 million for completing the “Pre Construction” stage in which they must prove that they can design a library that they can build for £160.9 million.
Only after this stage has been completed successfully will Carillion be awarded the contract to actually build the new library.
The balance of £30.3 million is for professional fees (Mecanoo architects), moving the books, and a Contingency Sum that can only be spent by the Council should it be needed.
These arrangements show that the Council is not as confident and fully committed as it appears in public.
Nor is the method of procurement as transparent as that used by the Council for the existing library in the 1970s.
Then they engaged John Madin as architect who, after seven years of careful research and negotiation, drew up detailed designs and obtained Bills of Quantities from which contractors, unknown to each other, estimated their construction cost in a competitive tender. Usually the lowest price won the contract and the work was carried out as agreed.
The current method allows the contractor to control the design in order to keep the cost below the agreed figure. This could mean watering down Mecanoo’s Concept Design.
It is hardly likely to produce the “best library in the world” as special features that make a building great are cut out one by one. Everyone knows that unique, “iconic” buildings cost more than expected. The Scottish Parliament building is just one recent example.
I assume that the Council would not have to proceed with the contract if it can’t pay the bill.
Councillor Whitby has always boasted that the funds are readily available, but the Business Plan written by Capita Symonds suggests otherwise.
They proposed that the new library be paid for by selling £55 million worth of Council-owned land at Paradise Circus, the Wholesale Markets and Eastside, borrowing £99 million, and finding the other £39 million from an unspecified source.
Since the Plan was written no Council land has been sold, commercial property values are set to halve (RICS, Guardian 8 December), the prospect of borrowing £99 million from the private sector has become laughable, and the existing Library may still be listed.
There are therefore still plenty of reasons for not believing Brian Gambles’ promise (Radio Four) that the “best library in the world” will be open to the public in 2013.
That is, unless he means the one he already runs in Paradise Circus.
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