Brexit blamed for pushing up cost of theatre

Calverley Square, the council’s proposed mixed-use facility that aims to replace the ailing Town Hall and Assembly Hall Theatre, as well as provide much-needed extra office space in the town, was originally forecast to cost £90million.

The actual cost of the theatre is now £108million.

According to the final technical report on the project, the RIBA [Royal Institute of British Architects] Stage IV report, released today [Wednesday], the construction cost of Calverley Square has increased by £18million.

But plunging interest rates mean taxpayers won’t have to pay any more for the project, which is being funded through the Public Works Loan Board.

The Council blames Brexit for the hike in the overall cost of Calverley Square, which has seen labour costs for the construction industry increase.

They also say high profile industry collapses such as Carillion and British Steel, along with the tightening up of building regulations following the Grenfell disaster, have added to the rising cost of the development.

Council Leader, Alan McDermott, said that uncertainty over EU contractors was one reason for the increase in costs.

He said: “There’s the unknown impact of tariffs, which the contractor has to bear the risk of, as well as bearing the risks of the labour supply.”

He added that as the Council intend to borrow £10million more than planned,  it will have to be approved by Full Council, which is set to meet to discuss the project on September 25.

The project was originally given the green light in 2017, with cross-party support from Full Council.

Since then, a political party, the Tunbridge Wells Alliance, intent on blocking the development, has formed.

Currently, a cross-party group of councillors are discussing possible alternatives while the project has been temporarily frozen.

“These talks are progressing well,” said Cllr David Scott, the Cabinet’s head of Property and Major Projects and the man in charge of Calverley Square.

He continued: “A number of things have come out, including that there are not really any alternative sites – there is either Calverley Square or revamping the current Town Hall site.

“While there has been a shortage of EU workers that has pushed up the construction cost of Calverley Square, the important thing is that the annual cost has not increased,” said Cllr Scott.

He said originally, the council planned to borrow £77million at an interest rate of 2.75 per cent to pay for Calverley Square, at a fixed repayment of £2.3million a year, costing the borough £115million over 50 years.

The Council is in talks for £5million of funding from Kent County Council and outlined another possible £3million in fundraising.

Despite this, it will still need to borrow £10million more than planned – £87million in total –but at a lower interest rate of 2.15 per cent.

This means taxpayers will pay the same £115million over the life of the 50-year loan at the same yearly payment of £2.3million.

Opponents to the now £108million development say they are ‘concerned’ by the overspend.

Liberal Democrat leader, Cllr Ben Chapelard [St James’] said: “As expected, the costs of the Conservatives’ new Town Hall complex have risen further.

“No amount of financial spin will hide the problem that it is still the wrong project in the wrong location.”

He continued: “We Liberal Democrats remain concerned that the Conservative leadership appears to want to rush through to the construction stage without fully considering alternatives or listening to residents.”

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