Repair work on London Fields Lido is set to cost the council at least £1.5 million, with no date in mind for the reopening, a Freedom of Information (FoI) request submitted by a local resident has revealed.
The pool’s refurbishment was due to finish in late August, but according to the Town Hall, “substandard” and “unacceptable” work by contractors has led to several delays.
Stewart Maclachlan, a member of the Lido’s User Group with knowledge of construction and local authority projects, submitted an FoI request to the council with an extensive list of questions.
He said the answers are “revealing”, but “some are unsatisfactory”.
The FoI response, written by the council’s head of leisure spaces Ian Holland and dated 21 November, shows the Lido contract is worth £1,462,600.78.
But Holland goes on to say that “final costs will not be known until the project is completed”.
Building firm Etec Contract Services Ltd is described as the “main contractor”, while the “specialist pool contractor” is APS Pool Contracting Ltd.
When the Citizen contacted Etec earlier this month, the person who picked up the phone said the firm would “not be answering any questions” – before the reason for calling had even been made clear – and quickly hung up.
Asked by Maclachlan if there are “any disputes in process” for the work, including litigation, Holland responded: “Not at this stage.”
On the contractor’s reasons for delays, Holland lists 13 variations to the contract, including cutting tiles around the pool, “additional ceiling works” and “additional electrical items”.
Maclachlan said: “There appears to be a disagreement between the builder and the council or its agent. We’re told the builder has asked for numerous ‘extensions of time’ – which is shorthand for ‘claims extra money’.
“What they are we don’t know, but the council hasn’t agreed any of these. When asked directly ‘Is there a dispute?’, we’re told, cryptically, ‘Not at this stage’ – inviting us to draw our own conclusions.”
The FoI also exposes what Maclachlan describes as a “chaotic” tendering process.
In a Facebook post, he said: “The way the work was tendered raised an eyebrow immediately. Instead of a smallish shortlist of appropriate builders, we had a London-wide competition, a scrum with 51 contractors applying, and with eight bothering to send in a bid.
“This appears chaotic at the very start of the job.”
Earlier this month, the council went into more detail about the problems with the Lido, saying there are “two main areas” that need to be addressed.
A statement read: “Firstly, problems with the mechanical and electrical works. The ducting and air handling unit installation did not meet the required specification so the contractor has stripped it out and is in the process of fitting a new installation.
“Secondly, general non-compliant items such as drainage, finishes, flooring and tiling which were not finished to an acceptable standard initially and are still being rectified.”
Community Services chief Cllr Jon Burke said at the time: “Progress has been made in both areas but our regular inspections indicate that a reopening date is still several weeks away.
“It is understandable that people who use the Lido are losing their patience more than two months after the planned reopening. We are equally frustrated and due to the contractor’s track record of missing deadlines we are not able to confirm an actual opening date at this stage.
“We will continue to review the situation on a daily basis and keep the Lido’s User Group up to date.
“We are pursuing all options to get the Lido open as quickly as possible, including following the required contractual process to deal with the non-compliant work and missed deadlines. At the moment that means continuing to work with the contractor.”
Before the council’s latest update, Maclachlan was critical of its communication about the Lido – specifically the lack of coverage in its taxpayer-funded freesheet Hackney Today.
On 6 November, he wrote: “There are claims it [Hackney Today] undermines independent local media like the Hackney Citizen, for example. Whatever it does, it doesn’t give any news about problems at the London Fields Lido (again). It’s as if they don’t exist.”