At last, we have a start date for restoring 30 of the Madeira Terrace Arches. A council report submitted to Policy and Resources Committee on 1st July says it’s going to start in early 2022. But after so many promises is this really the good news, we have all been waiting for?
The report says that the aim is to restore the 30 arches to the west of the central Shelter Hall (Concorde 2) finishing at the steps at Royal Crescent.
The reason that these arches have been chosen is not explained and the fate of the dismantled arches further west is not mentioned. The capital funding allocated to the project is £2.44M which includes £0.44M raised by the crowdfunding campaign in 2017. Additional funding is specified as borrowing of £5.6M for the initial restoration and £3.635M for future restoration.
The appointment of a Design Team dates back to 2019 since which time three stages of preparation of reports have taken place culminating in the report submitted on 1st July.
A large design team has been appointed.
Preparation of the overall Brief for the Design Team prepared by Project Managers Anna Cullum Associates, along with architects Garbers and James.
Architects and Lead Consultant – Purcell
Business Planners – Fourth Street
Cost Consultant – Robinson Low Francis (RLF)
Landscape Architect- Landscape Projects
Mechanical, Electrical and Public Health Engineers – Stantec
And at the bottom of the list the Structural Engineers – Hemsley Orrell Partnership (HOP).
The fact that the Structural Engineers are at the bottom of the pile is of great concern because the main point of the project is supposed to be the restoration of an historic Grade ll* ironwork structure. This is a very complex process and yet according to the timetable the detailed work on carrying out a detailed survey and inspection of the current condition of the structure, preparation of a repair methodology and appointment of a specialist contractor and an iron foundry, will only commence after a planning application in September with a projected start date in “early” 2022. The work that the Structural Engineers are expected to complete in the space of a few months seems to illustrate a complete misunderstanding of the complex nature of the restoration.
In 2018 we joined with Nick Tyson, an architectural expert and owner of the Regency Town House in Brunswick Square, and the Regency Society to hold discussions with a consultant and contractor who had worked on the restoration of many historic iron structures in the UK, including the Albert Memorial.
We arranged meetings with the council, including Nick Hibberd, the officer responsible for the proposed work on Madeira Terrace. The one critical recommendation was that any successful restoration of an historic iron structure had to start with the early appointment of supervising engineer, specialist contractor and a foundry so that the condition of the structure could be assessed, methodology agreed, and detailed costs finalised.
It is very likely that many cast iron sections will need replacement and the process for successfully carrying out this work should be agreed at the outset.
Starting early and having an agreed relationship between the companies involved would mean that the quality of the restoration would be assured. The overall cost for the contract would be much less than appointing expensive consultants who would delegate the work, resulting in greater costs and such delegation to sub-contractors would result in a poor control over quality.
Even finding a suitable foundry in the UK will be difficult. Foundries specialising in architectural iron work are few and far between and those that are operating are extremely busy. Casting replacement cast iron parts for the Terrace will need to be of the highest quality – a process that requires a skill which will not be easy to find.
The latest council report on the restoration has six companies listed before any mention of a structural engineering expert so the advice we tried to give the Council seems to have been ignored. Interestingly the cost consultant, RLF, also recommended an early appointment of a contractor to ensure an accurate estimate of costs, but this suggestion was not taken up.
In addition, the council have specified additional “improvements” for the terrace along with complicated contract conditions. There is an aim to include a lift at the Royal Crescent steps and a complete refurbishment of the lift at the Shelter Hall. The “Green Wall” is given a priority in the report and arrangements will be required to ensure that the plants can thrive. There is also an expectation that all rainwater will be recycled. All of these aims will presumably require additional structural work on the Terraces.
There is also a great emphasis in the report that all the work has to be based on the theory of a” Circular Economy”. This is an aim for construction work to be based on zero carbon, recycling and green energy, perfectly acceptable for new buildings but difficult to implement for restoration of a cast iron structure. The report even
a recommends that any part of the Terrace that is removed because of extensive corrosion should be earmarked for an alternative use. All these requirements just seem to illustrate the lack of understanding of the complex nature of restoring historic ironwork.
Perhaps even more critical is that the details of the restoration will not be finalised until the Planning Application is agreed in September. It is only then that the detailed costs can be ascertained and presumably at this stage the finance of the project has to be agreed. The council have allocated £2million for the restoration which presumably has to include all the payments to the consultants that have been employed since 2019. Let’s hope there is sufficient finance to to actually start the work.
The additional contract requirements that have been imposed on any restoration appear to be unbelievably complicated and currently there is no clear idea of the total cost. It does seem incredibly optimistic that the structural engineers are going to sort all this out in just a few months.
But of course, the report says restoration will start early next year – that’s a very tight timeframe and will require all these complex problems to be sorted out in record time.