Agenda item




To provide an account of the Harkness Court refurbishment project.




The Chair introduced the Call to Account item and welcomed Steve Crowley, Service Director – Enterprise and Nafees Parker, Building Surveyor, who were in attendance to provide their account.


The Service Director – Enterprise presented their report entitled ‘Call to account on the Harkness Court Refurbishment’ and appendices, following which Members asked questions.


Audio recording – 12 minutes 18 seconds


The Chair introduced the Call to Account item and welcomed Steve Crowley, Service Director – Enterprise and Nafees Parker, Building Surveyor, who were in attendance to provide their account.


Before proceedings commenced, the following Members confirmed they had received dispensation from the Service Director – Legal & Community:


·       Councillor Sean Nolan

·       Councillor Ralph Muncer

·       Councillor David Levett

·       Councillor Ian Moody

·       Councillor Val Bryant


The Service Director – Enterprise presented their report entitled ‘Call to account on the Harkness Court Refurbishment’ and Appendices, and advised that:


·       The aim was to revert Harkness Court back into residential use, as four flats, from its current use as offices.

·       The start date for refurbishment was delayed from 2018 to August 2020, the building work had been completed, however, there were a number of additional items that needed to be undertaken to enable it to be rented out. This work was scheduled to complete by the start of February 2024.

·       The lack of a formal project or project manager in place, plus changes in personnel at Stevenage Borough Council and North Herts Council combined with the impact of Covid, had caused delays in starting this project.

·       Another delay was complying was that the furthest point a fire engine can park from the furthest point of a building could be no more than 45 meters, this was part of the previously mentioned work that needed to be undertaken.

·       On completion Harkness Court would be leased out to rent by Broadwater Hundred Property Management Ltd, a trading company wholly owned by the Council which would provide a revenue income of £16,000 per annum.


The following which Members asked questions:


·       Councillor Adam Compton

·       Councillor David Levett

·       Councillor Clare Billing

·       Councillor Val Bryant

·       Councillor Ian Moody

·       Councillor Sean Nolan

·       Councillor Ralph Muncer


The following questions were asked by Members:


·       Have you gone through the list of all the other commercial projects to see if they do fall within the scope which will ensure they get on to a project plan and this doesn’t happen again?

·       Is the figure of £16,000 revenue income listed in 4.2 of the report for the Council correct?

·       Could you outline the primary objectives for the project? Were any other alternative objectives considered?

·       Who were key stakeholder of the project and did this change throughout the duration of the project?

·       Was the role of the project manager identified and were other stakeholders aware of this?

·       Was this project in Councillor Levett’s portfolio at the beginning of the project?

·       Were there any delays in signing off the contract at the start?

·       Were any risks identified at the start of the project?

·       Were there any significant changes to milestones at the beginning of the project, and were there in fact any milestones?

·       Had there been any staff resource issues throughout the project and did this have any impact on the timescales?

·       Were any of the current projects identified that there wasn’t a contract for?

·       In the last eighteen months was there any project management software used throughout the project?

·       How many regular reviews in last year have there been for the project?

·       How were building control involved in the contract agreements and management?

·       Where did the responsibility for liaising with building control throughout the project rest?

·       Was any money borrowed because payments were late?

·       What was the original timescale of the project for awarding to completion?

·       Have there been any methodologies identified for developing project management skills that are not present so far?

·       Have there been any proactive ideas for reviewing information we have about land ownerships where there were complexities?

·       Was it fair to say that the Council underestimated the scale for the original project?

·       Why was there not a project manager allocated to a project of this size?

·       When were officers made aware of significant concerns around project management?

·       What mechanisms were enabled to ensure cross authority communication?

·       Was the correct level of expertise now available going forward to enable the full set of specifications?

·       Was there a recognised way specifications were developed in the early stages of a project?

·       When was it identified that the contract was missing?

·       Were we now signing electronic copies of contracts?

·       What is the difference between a deal of agreement and a contract?


In response to questions, the Service Director – Enterprise advised that:


·       This project was seen as a simple conversion and only once work had started issues were identified which had caused significant delays.

·       There was still the option to sell the four flats instead of renting if preferred.

·       Further work did still need to be completed to get this refurbishment completed.

·       Harkness Court was part of a much bigger £3 million capital allocation rather than a standalone project.

·       This project was in Councillor David Levett’s portfolio at the beginning of the project.

·       Stevenage Borough Council had responsibility for liaising with building control, working closely with North Herts Council.

·       There was no formal framework in place to ensure the correct monitoring of projects and that the right documents were in place.

·       No project management software was used at that time, there was only monitoring of outstanding items.

·       An audit found the original contract was missing.

·       All building control issues were now resolved apart from the 45 meter rule.

·       No risk log or issue log were found.

·       No extra funds had been borrowed by the Council for this project.

·       Informal project board meetings were now held regularly to review progress of the project.

·       There was now a full-time procurement officer employed by the Council.

·       This was a learning curve for the Council and going forward, any project of this size would have the correct project management in place to ensure knowledge and expertise throughout the project.


In response to questions, the Building Surveyor advised:


·       That the relationship with architects and staff at Stevenage Borough Council worked well.

·       Even with a project manager in place, it was unlikely that the 45 meter rule would have been identified.

·       Any project with a cost of over £50,000 must have a formal contract.

·       The signing of a contract was handled by the legal department.

·       A paper contract was signed at the time, but this can’t be found.

·       A deal of agreement was a more simple and cheaper document than a contract.

·       Hard copies of contracts were still being used.


The Chair advised that he would be submitting a report back to either Cabinet or Council to talk about the lessons learnt as part of this process. He would be looking at ways in which Overview and Scrutiny could use the lessons learnt from an internal audit for the best for the Council in the long term.


N.B. Subsequent to the meeting, for the purpose of clarification, the contract referred to in the above minute for the building works was held and had not been misplaced.

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