St George’s Theatre shambles: shows facing cancellation

THE �7.5m St George's Theatre shambles is escalating, with booked shows facing cancellation.

Doors were supposed to open in February 2012, but bosses have revealed the project is still more than half a year from completion - with acts due on stage next month.

Councillors investigated opening the chapel while work on the pavilion continues, but found this may lumber the taxpayer with further costs.

Trevor Wainwright, leader of the council, said he is 'disappointed' with the situation but that he would not agree to partially opening the site until an 'acceptable agreement' for dealing with extra costs could be reached.

A mystery structural fault was discovered in the pavilion last month, and neither builders RG Carter Ltd or designers Hopkins Architects Partnership will accept responsibility for it.

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Until the stand off is resolved, no work is taking place - and a report indicates remedial work will take between six and nine months when it is eventually started.

This means the earliest the project can be completed is February 2013 - a year later than promised.

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Project director Peter Hardy told Wednesday's cabinet meeting: 'At this point both the cause of the problem and the best way to resolve it remain not agreed. Until this is agreed work cannot start.

'I've kept in close touch with trustees and assured them we're doing all we can, but there are all these contractual and financial battles that we must finish first.'

He added the delays are likely to lead to 'significant additional costs' but noted: 'Where they land depends on how the contractual issues pan out.'

Partial opening was seen as a way of getting acts on stage sooner, but cabinet members fear this may incur further costs on the taxpayer by altering the balance of complex contracts with the builders and architects.

Mr Hardy told councillors: 'My immediate reaction is partial hand over could lead to additional costs that are not fully recoverable.'

Council leader Mr Wainwright said it would be irresponsible to throw away more taxpayers' money, and urged the builders and architects to swiftly reach an agreement.

'I think it's incredible that we've got RG Carter - one of the most renowned builders in Norfolk - and one of the best architects in the country and no work has gone on since April this year,' he told the meeting. 'We've said there's no problem with partial handover but what's it going to cost us? They won't come back to us on that.

'This is taxpayers' money we're talking about and we need to know what it will cost.'

Councillors also requested 'a clear plan and timetable for remediation of the pavilion' before partial opening is agreed.

A report to the council says the delay is due to 'design or workmanship, or some combination' – thus additional costs should fall on the party responsible rather than the council.

Shows are booked at the venue from September onwards - including comedian Tim Vine, crack Shakespeare troupe Propellor and acclaimed actor Robert Powell's celebration of Charles Dickens.

World famous flautist Sir James Galway's performance has already been moved to St Nicholas Minster, and councillors are fearful delays will put performers off visiting the venue.

Barry Coleman, borough councillor for West Flegg ward, said: 'There are significant knock-on effects, like reputation with stars and agents.

'It's a great shame we've not been able to come together and reach an agreement.'

He added he was perplexed that so many problems could arise from building the pavilion, which he likened to a 'large bungalow'.

Peter Wilson, chairman of St George's Trust, confirmed organisers are already having to look at booked shows.

'Our view is that any delay to the opening of the building is regrettable,' he said. 'However, St George's Chapel has been around for almost three centuries, and a few more months out of action won't stop it being a substantial addition to the Norfolk artistic and architectural scenes.

'We hope that the factors which have caused the delay will be sorted out speedily, and will help if asked.'

He said organisers will work with the borough council to be prepared for opening - 'whenever it happens' - and that steps are being taken to move or cancel booked shows hit by the delay.

'Theatre manager Chris Moore will deal with the details of the shows that are already booked in,' said Mr Wilson. 'Each of which will require slightly different treatment.'

Saul Humphrey, regional director at RG Carter, said it was usual company policy not to comment but the firm was doing all it could to overcome the problems.

Nobody at Hopkins Architects Partnership was available for comment.

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