Leeds Arena design changed at last minute to stay within budget, Council reveals

Spot the missing bit

The design of Leeds City Council’s “exciting” Arena project had to be changed at the last minute to avoid the scheme going over budget, the Council says.

According to a report released on the Council’s website late on Friday night (26th August) the solicitors hired to provide legal services for the project, Cobbetts, had to be called in at the end of last year to carry out hectic negotiations once it became clear that proposals submitted by building contractors BAM exceeded the budget.

“In order to achieve a budget compliant scope of works, the contractor (BAM) had to develop a more efficient and cost effective design solution that would satisfy the Council’s brief, (Arena operator) SMG’s operational requirements, achieve all statutory consent and be within the budget set by the Council,” the report said.

Worried about the possible cost implications of any delay, the Council asked Cobbetts to commit extra time and resources to the project and “fully engage” with BAM so a contract could be signed in May 2011 and site work start soon after.

“In these circumstances, all time and effort from Council officers and the Council’s advisors was focussed on achieving an acceptable design solution within budget,” the report said.

So Cobbetts went ahead and carried out further lengthy negotiations with BAM and, critically, negotiated an agreement with Arena operators SMG covering the changes to the design.

They also had to check the implications of the design changes on the funding agreements for the project that had been signed with “third parties” (Yorkshire Forward presumably?).

It wasn’t clear from the report what changes to the original design ended up being introduced.

Extra legal work went through on the nod

Now, strictly speaking, the extra work handed out to Cobbetts to sort out agreement over this, erm, “acceptable design solution”, went beyond the scope of their original Arena contract, won in a tendering process. It probably shouldn’t have gone through on the nod but should have been advertised.

“Council officers did not secure the required Waiver of Contract Procedure Rules at the appropriate time for approval of Cobbetts additional time and input to the arena project and, as a consequence of such works, the additional fee payable to the company,” the report admitted.

“In approving a Waiver without competition, there is a risk of challenge from other potential providers who have not had the chance to bid for this work,” it added.

Still, as the report noted, Cobbetts had been working on the project since July 2007 and it made sense that they provide the additional work. “To have procured and appointed alternative legal advisors would have meant additional disproportionate costs being incurred and unacceptable delay to the programme by bringing an alternative provider up to speed with the arena project.”

Of course no other solicitors are going to complain that they weren’t given the chance to do the extra work that Cobbetts took on (and the Council’s Director of City Development has now approved it), but it would be interesting to know what the City is now NOT getting in its £80 million Arena.

And there’s nothing about the last minute design changes in Arena – The Story So Far on the Council’s website. Strange that.

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