Astley Hall cottage roof condition in much worse state than thought as repair bill almost trebles

Repairs to the roof of the cottage at Chorley’s Astley Hall will cost almost three times more than first estimated.

Wednesday, 25th May 2022, 9:12 am
Updated Wednesday, 25th May 2022, 9:42 am

The bill to renovate the structure - to the rear of the main building - has ballooned after contractors removed slates and discovered the extent of the work required to restore it to a good condition.

A meeting of Chorley Council heard that the cottage roof was in a “significant state of disrepair” - meaning that the £131,000 originally allocated for the project would now fall far short of what was needed. The authority has approved a new budget of £340,000 to fund the necessary work.

Council leader Alistair Bradley said that he was shocked when first presented with the “astronomical” figure. The revised sum had initially been even higher, but was reduced, he said, after the council requested a recosting exercise to see what could be “parred out” of the planned works in order to get better value for money.

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Chorley Council will have to stump up £340,000 to put right the roof of the cottage at Astley Hall

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Grand reopening of Astley Hall after two years of restoration

Cllr Bradley told members that he now considered the cost to be “appropriate and acceptable” in view of the nature of the work needed - although he acknowledged that it would mean the authority was spending “proportionately more” on the cottage roof than it had on the recently-completed restoration of the rest of the landmark building.

The fruits of that £1.1m project were revealed to the public last weekend when the Grade I-listed hall was reopened to the public after being closed for two years. The rocketing budget for the cottage roof had been approved just days earlier.

Deputy council leader Peter Wilson said that it was “good fortune” that the state of the structure - which amounts to around 20 percent of the roof space of the entire hall - had been revealed before “serious damage occurred”.

It was only when the slates were removed from the roof of the cottage at Astley Hall that the extent of the necessary repairs was revealed (image: Chorley Council)

The cottage area will be used for storage and as a space for staff once the repairs - which will be funded by borrowing - are completed.

According to papers presented to the full council meeting where the green light was given for the extra spending, an additional £209,000 will be needed in excess of the original estimate - including a further £88,459 for the repairs themselves and £64,557 for 33 weeks of “prolongation costs” for the contractor.

Conservative opposition group leader Martin Boardman said that, by his calculation - having looked at the breakdowns of both the original and additional sums - the authority was paying for “about £150,000 of actual work, including profit, but it's costing us, as a council, £340,000”.

Cllr Bradley said that some of the amounts were “provisional”, because “even at this point in time, we don’t know exactly what the job is going to cost until [the contractors] start doing it”.

The famous frontage of Astley Hall has recently had a facelift...

However, he accepted that the bill was higher than he would have liked, but hoped that it now comprised a “maximum cost envelope” which could yet be reduced by the council continuing to go through the bill “with a fine tooth comb”.

The meeting heard that the authority had considered the possibility of retendering the cottage roof project as a separate package of works, but that the option had been discounted because of the “significant cost” that would have been incurred if the current contractor, Bullen Construction, had been stood down and the scheme started from scratch - with the resultant need for new scaffolding and preliminary work.

Cllr Boardman also questioned why £107,000 worth of associated repairs to the cottage section were still being described as “provisional” when they formed part of the initial tender for the rennovation of the hall.

“[They] were in the original bill of quantities - render panels, brickwork, timber repairs, windows, wallplates - you name it, that was scoped.

... but the cottage area at the back of the building is still shrouded in scaffolding

“Is the £107,000 provisional sum over and above the works that we have already actually given to the contractor and, if that’s so, what’s that [further] £107,000 made up of?” Cllr Boardman asked.

Cllr Bradley said that the sum represented “an element of work…[which] was effectively a part of the initial overall budget price, but, really, was a second phase that was to be confirmed as and when”.

He said that the figure stood in addition to the £340,000 now set to be spent on the roof and would come out of the maintenance budget for the hall if it was ultimately deemed necessary to spend it.

“Rather than work that has to be done, it’s work that we probably want to do now. Because it seems daft putting a new roof and structure [in place] higher up without doing the base down below as well, which we always planned to do,” Cllr Bradley explained.

He added that he had been surprised that the cottage roof was the only unforeseen expense to have been encountered in the wider Astley Hall regeneration project, which Cllr Wilson said had - up to this point - been “absolutely on the nose in terms of being on budget”. That was something which Cllr Boardman noted was no longer the case.

More than £100,000 worth of work to the rest of the cottage is planned, in addition to the roof repairs