Land sale to meet Piece Hall costs or leaders face funding gap

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Leaders at Calderdale Council are relying on the sale of land to meet the current overspend position for the Piece Hall and new Halifax library as the opening of the buildings are delayed once again.

The Council will be spending £190m on capital programme schemes until 2020 and there is a surplus of £1.5m.

However, £2.7m is earmarked to fund the current overspend position for the Grade I listed building and the library which formal approval will be sought at full Council.

If approved there will be a funding defecit of £1.2m and the Council will be relying on the sale of land on Mulcture Hall Road and generate £1.9m to meet the cost.

The planned reopening of the historic Piece Hall has been delayed by more than a year, the leader of Calderdale Council has said.

A £19m restoration project of the Georgian building started in January 2014 and was due to be completed earlier this year, but the work will not now be finished until sometime next year, Councillor Tim Swift said.

In a statement issued to The Yorkshire Post, Coun Swift said: “The Piece Hall will re-open to the public in 2017. The first important milestone to be achieved is the completion of the work currently being undertaken by Graham Construction under contract to Calderdale Council, which is expected to be early next year.

“There will then be a process that will see the handover of the Piece Hall from the council to The Piece Hall Trust. This will be followed by a 16-18 week period in which the new Heritage Centre, retail units, cafés, bars and restaurants will be fitted out before being ready to open to the public. The programme of cultural and arts events will begin soon after.”

Explaining the delay, Coun Swift added: “The Piece Hall is opening later than we originally planned because, typical of a Grade I listed Georgian building, there are no detailed historic drawings for the design and construction teams to use. Peculiarities have been revealed only when teams have been working on the ground, meaning plans have had to be adapted and flexible.

“The most recent example of this is the discovery, during the last three metres of excavation below ground, of a dry stone wall constructed as foundations – an inadequate structure for the 21st century. This needed to be strengthened, which has added up to eight weeks to the construction programme. We also had two discoveries of asbestos in the later stages of the building work, which has added additional weeks to the construction programme.”

Contractors have been hindered by a lack of detailed design blueprints for the existing structure, owing to the Grade I listed property’s age, and during excavation works a series of unexpected discoveries means the project will take longer than expected.

The problems are expected to swell the cost of the project, according to Coun Swift, who added: “The Piece Hall is a complex project and there are likely to be additional costs so that we can complete the transformation to the standard and quality which you would expect in a Grade I listed building. However, as negotiations are currently underway with our contractors it would be unhelpful for us to go into any further detail on these, at this stage.”

Originally constructed in 1779, The Piece Hall first served as a trading centre for cloth and it has been a meeting point of Halifax’s commercial, civic and cultural life for almost 250 years.