Decade-long project to tackle Council properties is over halfway through

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The chimneys on City Hall are being repaired at a cost of £100,000 The chimneys on City Hall are being repaired at a cost of £100,000

A decade-long project to get to grips with the Council’s £65 million repairs backlog has been hampered by the discovery of new problems, a report has revealed.

Bradford Council is now in year six of its ten-year Property Programme, which aims to bring its estate up to scratch by selling off some buildings and using the cash to improve others.

The authority also wanted to get a better idea of what repairs were needed across its estate of offices, stores and municipal buildings, as its information was patchy.

But despite years of work, the overall cost of the backlog has hardly shifted, because the scale of the repairs needed had been underestimated at the start.

When the project started, only 271 of the Council’s 432 buildings had been surveyed. Inspections of the remaining 161 buildings threw up a further £19.9m of repairs to add to the backlog.

On top of this, a further £7m has been added to the bill to include the cost of fees and new health and safety requirements, bringing the total backlog to a staggering £90m.

It means that despite years of work, £17.9m of repairs done, and the vacation of dozens of buildings reducing the backlog by a further £11m, the overall figure has so far dropped only marginally, from £65m to £64m.

But Councillor Andrew Thornton, executive member for the environment, who is helping to oversee the project, insisted good progress had been made.

He said: “In 2010 we actually established the backlog maintenance was £90m. Since then, we have reduced that by a third, effectively.”

He said so far, the Council had either sold or relinquished leases on 71 of its 432 buildings – about one in six.

The money raised by these sales has been ploughed into improving other Council properties.

Coun Thornton said this work often made the improved buildings cheaper to run, so the programme was also saving money in running costs.

And he said the scheme was proving so successful, it had even been nominated for a national award.

He said: “This is a really good deal for the taxpayer. It’s about making the best use of our office space and assets that we have got. We’re making sure that we are able to make the best out of that space, for the least cost to the taxpayer.”

Before the programme began, responsibility for buildings was held within individual Council departments, rather than an overall facilities management service.

The report says this had led to poor quality information about the condition of buildings, an estate that was too large and expensive, a backlog in much-needed repair work and an “increasing risk” that buildings would not be compliant with health and safety rules.

Coun Thornton said: “If we hadn’t elected to do this, the situation would be horrendous.”

Before, the Council hadn’t had a full understanding of its own estate.

He said: “It’s been about getting a proper handle on what there is, where it is and what condition it has been in.

“Before this project came about, that hadn’t been the case.”

The report says a five-year rolling programme of condition surveys has now been put in place to avoid a backlog building up in future.

The leader of the Conservative group said he had serious concerns about some aspects of the plan.

Councillor Glen Miller said the fact not all of the buildings were surveyed at the start of the project showed the Labour leadership was “just making it up as they go along”.

He said: “I have no doubt they will blame the backlog on the last administration. It’s about time Labour grew up and stopped blaming others for their own incompetences.”

Coun Miller also said he didn’t agree with all the improvement works which had been carried out, especially when other areas of the Council’s work faced closures and budget cuts.

He said: “I do have concerns when we can afford to install nice, pretty lights to light up the clock tower and change the colour of it. I don’t see that as an investment when we are closing children’s centres.”

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