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Camden New Journal by DAN CARRIER
Published: 26 April 2007
Estate revamp ‘sacking’ chaos

Architects firm taken off job as council acts over soaring refurbishment costs

ARCHITECTS working on a multi-million pound project on a flagship Highgate estate have been sacked following a series of problems, the New Journal has learned.
Camden Council have been locked in talks with Sprunt, an architecture consultancy firm, and builders over delays and rocketing costs on the refurbishment of the Whittington estate in Highgate Newtown. Costs are believed to have risen by almost 50 per cent, from around £4m to £6m.
Sprunt were dismissed on Friday and now Camden’s building department are overseeing the works.
The firm has worked for Camden on other projects, including renovations of some of the boroughs largest estates. According to its website, Sprunt has been working on renovations with the Town Hall worth around £20m including projects at Ampthill Square, Euston, Holly Lodge, Highgate and Crowndale, Somers Town.
Sprunt’s brief for borough-wide projects was to work as “an extension of the in-house team”.
Yesterday (Wednesday) a spokesman for the company declined to comment.
A council spokesman refused to describe the removal of Sprunt as a sacking, however.
“We have taken over the direct administration of the work after a number of problems occurred,” said the spokesman.
“Large construction projects do sometimes give rise to disputes and it would not be appropriate to discuss such details publicly while attempts to resolve matters continue.
“Sprunt continue to work on other projects for Camden and we will review the issues that have come to light in the project with both the contractor and the consultant to prevent similar problems happening again.”
The estate, home to over 1,100 people, was designed in 1973 by student architect Peter Tabori as part of his final-year dissertation.
He studied at the practice of modernist architect Erno Goldfinger and was headhunted by Camden’s building department.
Work on major repairs and redecoration started in November 2005 and was due to finish in April 2007. The completion date has now been pushed back to November 2007.
Estate residents association chairman Fabian Watkinson, who has lived there for 12 years, said the problems were waiting to happen.
He claims to have seen tender documents that outlined the work before it began. Mr Watkinson said he showed the plans to six architects who live on the estate – all six agreed that the scheme in its original guise was unworkable.
Mr Watkinson said: “This has been a mess from the word go. The original tender document was inadequate, and we made this clear.”
According to Mr Watkinson the technical drawings were not sufficiently detailed for the contractors to be able to make a judgement on the scale of the works and, because of the estate’s unique design, builders have had to do extra, unforeseen work.
The homes sit on stilts providing an underground garage, and water has been seeping into them.
This means lifting up every paving slab and digging up each front garden to lay a new damp-proofing sheet to stop water dripping through.
Mr Watkinson added: “The irony is the garages are barely used.”
Contractors could not source the same type of concrete originally used, which has flecks of stone in it.
Instead they used grey concrete and then employed a painter to go round homes with a palette of stone-coloured flecks to colour in the patched-up areas.
Mr Watkinson said: “This estate has appeared in international magazines. The Town Hall should be proud of their estates, but they are just seen as a liability.”
Housing chief Lib-Dem councillor Chris Naylor said he would ask housing officers to look carefully at what went wrong, but said that while legal advice was being sought he could not say whether there would be a borough-wide enquiry into what lessons could be learnt.
He added: “We will look carefully at what has happened to ensure it does not happen again.”
Construction firm Makers are continuing to work on the project.

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