Leader of Derby City Council, Chris Poulter has provided an update on the new Assembly Rooms project:
“As the incoming administration of Derby City Council in 2018, we set out to ensure that we were open and transparent with the public on the decisions that we take. With that in mind we committed to keeping you up-to-date with developments on the new Assembly Rooms project, by sharing information as and when it became available.
Relevant members of my Cabinet and I have been in attendance at all Project Board meetings and have received regular briefings to update us on progress. As you may recall, in the autumn we reviewed the new Assembly Rooms scheme after significant shortcomings were identified in the level of external project management at the time. This review resulted in a revised programme of work, with a scheduled project completion date of November 2021. Throughout, my Cabinet colleagues and I have sought constant reassurance that the renewed venue could be delivered within the agreed budget of £24m, and this reassurance has been given on each occasion.
However, in the papers for the forthcoming Major Projects Board (on Thursday), the Board will be presented with a report setting out the latest financial position, and this report will predict a significant increase in costs; the report shows that the project costs are currently forecast to exceed £30m.
In considering what is best for the public purse, if the latest assessment is robust and the project will now cost more than £30m, it calls into question the sustainability and viability of the business case for a renewed Assembly Rooms.
This, coupled with emerging risks highlighted through the Council’s robust governance processes, means we feel it’s now time to make the decision to stop the project, take stock, and assess whether the development still offers Derby tax payers the best possible value for money.
Practically, this would mean that further work to the building will stop. We will conduct an in-depth evaluation of this new information and the projected costs against the agreed £24m maximum budget, in order to thoroughly scrutinise the reasons for these increased costs and inform our consideration of the appropriate next steps and our options going forward.
Members of the Cabinet have challenged and carried out due diligence throughout the development of the project and the Council has not committed to or signed any major works contracts, other than those necessary in any event to make the building safe, for example the removal of asbestos. We consider that this presents an opportune moment to stop, reflect, and ensure we make the right decision for Derby going forward.
I suspect and understand that like us, many Derby residents, businesses’ and partners will be extremely disappointed at this news, given that it appears we can no longer deliver what would have been a very long awaited and much needed boost to the vitality of the city centre.
As a responsible administration, ensuring we secure maximum value for money from the public funds we spend on behalf of the city and its residents is a key consideration. We are not prepared to commit to contracts that could significantly exceed the budget that was agreed for this project, and as such we would hope that Derby citizens will be able to understand and accept our rationale in arriving at this decision.
Given the significance of this project, we understand that clarity is needed following the Project Board Meeting on Thursday, to give some certainty going forward, and we will update you as soon as possible on any actions and decisions we take.”