A report into what went wrong with the Fairfield Halls refurbishment was pulled from a Croydon Council meeting at the last minute yesterday (Thursday, July 8).
The council’s general purposes and audit committee was expecting to hear the latest on an independent report into the multi-million pound revamp of the arts venue carried out by council-owned developer Brick by Brick.
It cost at least £42 million to refurbish the halls, well over the £30 million budget, and the idea was that the neighbouring College Green development of more than 400 flats would cover these costs.
But in May this year the council wiped out a £69 million loan for the project, which included the refurbishment of the arts venue, a car park and work on land outside the halls.
An independent report into how the project was managed and how much money was spent is being carried out by external auditors Grant Thornton.
Sarah Ironmonger from the auditors told the committee: “We have continued to work on this we have reached the end of our discussions on finance but on the legal side we need to get external advice. We are now in a position that we have updated legal advice and it is with us to be writing that report.
“I completely understand why that is frustrating to members but you wouldn’t expect me to report papers which are not finished.
“You have my full commitment that we will bring this to members and there will an opportunity to discuss matters in a public forum.”
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In answer to a question, Ms Ironmonger stressed that council officers had not tried to delay or prevent the report coming forward.
But Labour councillor Paul Scott described the late notice that the report was not ready “unreasonable”.
He said: “I ask that as a matter of courtesy to all people in this meeting that if papers are not available the committee and others are advised of that fact more than a few hours before.
“I think it is unreasonable to come to a meeting expecting a certain agenda to be discussed, only then to get a verbal report the papers are not available.”
Chief executive Katherine Kerswell apologised to the committee for the lack of communication on the missing papers.
She said: “I am sincerely sorry. There has been clearly a lot of unhappiness from the committee on this because of the expectation and desire to discuss such an important matter as Fairfield Halls.
After the meeting, Conservative councillor Tim Pollard told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he wants to see the report released before the end of August, when a pre-election period known as purdah starts and means announcements that could influence voters are not published by council officials.
Cllr Pollard said: “Members of all sides were fairly up in arms about this, there is a general consensus that we must see something before the end of August.
“We’ve been trying for three years to find out what went wrong, it was absolute disaster of a project from top to bottom.”