Fresh row over arts centre

COLCHESTER'S over-budget and behind-schedule new art gallery was in fresh crisis last night after it emerged a major dispute has once more arisen with the contractor responsible for building it.

Roddy Ashworth

COLCHESTER'S over-budget and behind-schedule new art gallery was in fresh crisis last night after it emerged a major dispute has once more arisen with the contractor responsible for building it.

The situation has deteriorated to the extent that Peter Elston, chairman of Banner Holdings Limited, has written to every member of Colchester Borough Council warning them that they could be held personally financially liable unless agreement is reached.

Banner has accused the council of trying to force it to do free repair work on the landmark Visual Arts facility (VAF), which is already �9million over-budget and ultimately expected to cost �25.5million.


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This includes fixing damage incurred when the building was left unfinished for almost a year - during an earlier stand-off with the council - and extra work Banner claims is needed due to design faults, which the firm believes it is not responsible for.

In his letter to the 60 councillors, sent on March 26, Mr Elston accused the council's chief executive, Adrian Pritchard, of last year threatening to “drive Banner into receivership” if it did not accept details of a contract connected to the project - claims denied by Mr Prichard.

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Mr Elston added that the firm wanted to do a good job but “the council have adopted a very confrontational style, which in the long run has proved counter productive and added cost.”

He wrote to councillors: “You will recall the Baroness Porter case where she was held personally liable for the wrongdoing of Westminster Council and I am writing to you personally so that you can ensure that similar allegations cannot be made against yourself, especially as ignorance is generally not accepted as a defence.”

The letter ends: “The current situation of not paying Banner and blaming us for everything is not acceptable; we hope that the chief executive is not going to carry out his threat from 2008.”

In an email Mr Pritchard sent to all councillors on Monday, he said he disputed many of the claims in Mr Elston's letter.

“In his letter he writes to each of you personally highlighting the Lady Porter case of using political influence illegally for political gain.

“Please do not be alarmed by this reference as the issues he goes onto state are in no way connected to you or the case of Lady Porter.

“What he is doing is to make all councillors aware of the situation he finds himself in regarding the contract he has in finishing a watertight and airtight building for which he will be paid �14.22million.

“He goes on to quote a range of matters and includes a range of documents which he believes supports his view of the contract and the position he is in.

“I would urge you to read this information in the knowledge that this is not the position the council finds itself in.

“These are all contractual matters for which there is a set of contractual remedies none of which Banner have so far felt able to institute to determine issues between us.”

Mr Pritchard added that he believed the quote attributed to him concerning “driving Banner into receivership” had been slightly twisted and taken out of context.

“The issue was that Banner said they would sit back on site in May 2008 and just take their money as they had a contract up to �12.7million but did not have to complete the building for that money.

“I recall saying that if they just sat there they would not get paid, would rack up costs and would be forced into receivership.

“The force would not be applied by me but by their very own actions.”

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