Retail centre development is millions over budget

COSTLY: Barnsley's Glass Works project has swallowed up extra millions
COSTLY: Barnsley's Glass Works project has swallowed up extra millions
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The prestigious new Glass Works retail and leisure centre in Barnsley has gone millions of pounds over budget, it has emerged, with most of a contingency fund already spent while the development is far from completion.

Councillors will not know full details of the overall costs until they get estimates for future phases of work in the summer but councillors have been warned the project is a “political priority” and if extra money was needed it would have to be found from elsewhere.

Barnsley Council set aside £10m to act as a contingency for unforeseen expenses while the centre – which is being remodelled from the outdated Metropolitan Centre on Cheapside – was being constructed.

But £6.5m of that fund has already been swallowed up, leaving the council’s financial planners to find the equivalent sum to top the reserves back up to £10m for the start of the next phase of work.

It is likely there will be other additional costs as construction continues, as councillors have just signed off a change which will see a new operations room created in the roof of the complex, for staff who will manage different areas of the building and to house equipment such as alarm systems.

Originally, it had been planned to accommodate them away from the new centre but it became clear that would be logistically difficult.

Initial engineering works for the room are expected to cost £300,000 alone, so that could begin to eat into the refreshed contingency cash.

The council’s service director for finance, Neil Copley, said the £6.5m would take the reserve cash back to its starting point and added: “Will that be sufficient? I don’t know.

“We will have further clarity when we get the tenders back for the main contract in June.

“There are some really big figures. We have cost consultants now in place overseeing all the phases.

“Previously we had different cost consultants for various phases and sometimes things could be missed.

“It is a top political priority. Other things would have to give if we needed money,” he said.

The Glass Works is the centrepiece of the regeneration of Barnsley town centre, a project which has been a council ambition for many years and which has had to be redrawn following the council’s failure to get an outside developer involved.

Original plans would have seen a different design, but that project was derailed by the recession and eventually Barnsley Council decided to press ahead with a more modest scheme using its own money.

The current work is focused less on retail, with an increased emphasis on leisure, as a result of the trend towards internet shopping which emerged while progress on the scheme was at an impasse.

The council has also submitted a planning application which should see the town centre’s open spaces, including a new Glass Works Square, given a modern transformation with a look said to be inspired by the Peak District.