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Costs spiral on Bristol concert hall refurb

4 Mar 21 The refurbishment of Bristol’s most famous concert hall is costing twice as much as expected.

Work at Beacon Hall is set to continue for another two years
Work at Beacon Hall is set to continue for another two years

The overhaul of Beacon Hall – previously Colston Hall –  was supposed to cost £49m when Willmott Dixon started work in August 2018. But with surprises along the way, costs have spiralled to £106.9m at latest estimate.

The job was supposed to have finished last year – not that many concerts were staged in 2020 anyway. Bu the latest revised completion date for the construction contract is April 2023 and the projected opening date for the new concert hall is October 2023.

 A report to Bristol City Council this week explained: “The volume and nature of the issues uncovered since work started on Phase 2 redevelopment have far outstripped the worst-case scenarios contemplated by the 2018 reports. Between June 2019 and April 2020 as contractors dismantled the building and demolition was carried out, the building gradually revealed large numbers of significant and unforeseen structural and heritage issues that created huge complexity and added significant time and cost to the project. These issues were monitored and escalated as soon as it became clear that the impact could not be managed within existing project specific contingency. The impact of these issues was compounded by the advent of Covid-19.”

The standard construction contract used was an NEC A, placing responsibility for risk of design development and the condition of the existing building on the council.

The report continues: “The initial budget was clearly inadequate once the structural and heritage items were discovered. We are now in a position to set an informed revised total capital investment budget of £106.9m. This is based on comprehensive information arising from the project review and includes appropriate project contingency to manage project risk.”

The revised programme and costs have been developed with Wilmott Dixon, the main contractor. Council officers have started the process of finalising the information required to complete the contract negotiations with Willmott Dixon but this process has proved “very challenging”, the council said. The report said: “The council is continuing to negotiate with WD but accept we retain liability for events and costs which have not been foreseen at the point of contracting.”

The Bristol Beacon is better know as Colston Hall. Its name was changed I September 2020 because the man it was originally named after, the 17th Century merchant Edward Colston, was involved in the slave trade and so no longer considered suitable for the honour.

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Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees said: “Bristol Beacon has been an iconic city centre venue for 150 years. It’s unique cultural, economic, and social value to Bristol means that pausing or abandoning the project would be an irretrievable loss to the city, its arts and culture organisations and citizens.   

CGI of the new-look hall
CGI of the new-look hall

“We now know what secrets the building holds, and while this has meant a higher than expected cost to modernise and re-open the venue, our commitment to Bristol Beacon is so strong that investment remains the best financial and strategic option for the city.

“We now have a detailed, resourced plan that gives certainty for when Bristol Beacon will re-open its doors  providing musicians, artists and cultural organisations from Bristol and beyond with a world class venue to perform in and brings  economic benefits by stimulating Bristol’s night time economy and attracting visitors to the city.”

A spokesperson for Willmott Dixon said; “Willmott Dixon has a strong relationship with Bristol City Council as it transforms the Bristol Beacon into a world-class venue that will be a major contributor of future economic growth in Bristol and the local economy. 

“The refurbishment of this historic Victorian-era Grade II listed building is extremely complex, with a number of well documented hidden issues that have only become apparent to Willmott Dixon and the council as work has progressed. 

“Willmott Dixon has worked with the council in an open, clear and transparent way to discuss and agree the right course of action to remedy the numerous issues that have emerged as the various structural layers have been removed. The site team are happy that the right solutions have been implemented to ensure the Bristol Beacon is a high quality, fit for purpose and world-renown facility that will be a popular destination over many decades for generations of Bristolians.”

A behind the scenes tour in June 2020

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