‘A bonkers idea’ is how one Hastings In Focus reader has described council plans to spend three quarters of a million pounds on a visitor centre at Hastings Country Park.
Cabinet members of Hastings Borough Council (HBC) will be asked at their meeting on Monday to approve new contractors for the scheme. The tender from SIA Design and Build, to create the bespoke visitor centre by using straw bales as a building material, is for £660,000.
The council confirmed earlier this month that it had already spent £2,000 buying the straw bales needed to build the centre and that they had been in storage since 2015.
The idea to create a visitor centre built from straw bales was initially approved by the council’s planning committee more than three and a half years ago and there have already been two aborted attempts to create the state-of-the-art structure.
Councillor Rob Lee who leads the opposition Conservative group on HBC was initially supportive of the plan but now thinks it’s time abandon it, he says: “The project is clearly hopelessly flawed. Spiralling costs and endless delays have meant that four years after being proposed it is still not being built. It’s time to ditch this failure.”
He has calculated that the new visitor centre could cost £3,400 per square metre to build making it, he claims, “one of the most expensive buildings in the town”.
He says: “It’s about time that the council started concentrating on good quality services instead of wasting time and taxpayers money on these strange white elephants.”
Hastings In Focus reader Darren McCann who branded the scheme ‘bonkers’ went on to say: “Anyone can see that three quarters of a million quid on a visitor centre that will only be open half the year and staffed by volunteers, doesn’t create the tourist numbers to justify the cost.”
Another reader said: “You really cold not make this up could you?… Why buy materials such as the straw before you have found a straw house builder. The projected cost alone is just absurd when you consider the main downtown toilets were demolished because they were too expensive to run.
“What gets me is they do not appear to be at all phased about the failure to build this thing and seem determined to wait until someone, someday comes along and will do it cheap enough.”
On Monday night cabinet members will be told by council officials: “Following Cabinet decision of May 21st 2018 to award a contract to a named principal contractor and a consortium of straw bale builders to build the visitor centre at Hastings Country Park, the structural and commercial workings of the consortium could not be finalised in an acceptable time. We therefore re-tendered the project… and a different contractor was identified as the preferred bidder.
“A Cabinet decision is therefore now required to let the contract to this new principal contractor.”
In a report from Murray Davidson, the council’s Environment and Natural Resources Manager councillors will hear the council received three tenders by its October 22nd deadline. Council officers are recommending that SIA Design and Build is awarded the contract. The company is described as a, “partnership lead by a principle contractor with extensive experience in sustainable buildings.” The report to councillors points out that a number of straw bale companies, but not those involved with the previous consortium HBC had been dealing with, form the partnership.
According to its website SIA says it has, “…an extensive foundation of environmental knowledge that can enable us to design neighbourhoods, parks, and waterways that filter our surface and ground water, clean our air, create habitats for local flora and fauna and improve our quality of live (sic). Our understanding of the way plants, gravity, and oxygen can work together and be guided by design ensure we can create desirable places to live and enjoy while providing the added benefits of making a contribution to improving the living environment.”
SIA claims to have the capacity to provide clients with, “comprehensive data that pertains to their project and its location anywhere in the world.”
SIA, says on its website that it can, “…advise clients how best to improve the design of a building to increase comfort and reduce operating costs.
“Our approach is to take into account the aesthetic, functional, financial, structural, and planning aspects of every project. We address our clients’ aspirations from the conceptual development through the detailed execution of our designs. SIA Design Build employs a number of experienced and skilled professionals and tradespeople to ensure the delivery and proper assessment of the project aspects. The team’s expertise allows us to assess all the project aspects simultaneously and execute our designs to the highest standard,” the website claims.
HBC’s cabinet will hear that, “The contractor has presented a clear programme to start prefabrication work off site during the winter period of 2018/19 and commence works on site in spring 2019, with a view to completing within the year.”