Construction minister says £26m offer from Mowlem to take over ailing project would be a ‘good way forward’

Construction minister Nigel Griffiths has hit out at Bath and North-East Somerset council over Bath Spa, branding it a “client from hell”.

Griffiths, who visited the £40m project on Monday, said the Liberal Democrat-dominated council should accept an offer from contractor Mowlem to take over the project, which is £27m over budget. Mowlem has proposed to complete it by July as a design-and-build contract for £26m.

The minister said: “My take on it is if the contractor will take full responsibility and the council can reach an agreement then that would be a good way forward.”

Griffiths called for the council to make up its mind in the next month. He said: “The council has had nine weeks to look at it. I would have thought it could decide in four weeks’ time.”

He added that he blamed the council for managing the contract poorly. He said: “You have an award-winning architect, an internationally recognised contractor and the council. I know who I think is the weakest link. In many ways, they are the client from hell … I’m not saying the council was the only one at fault, but it has shown a failure to grasp the problems. It should have been more measured and decisive.”

Griffiths also said the council “sabotaged” his last attempt to mediate on the project. He chaired a meeting last March between Mowlem chief executive Sir John Gains, architect Sir Nicholas Grimshaw and John Everitt of the council, but it achieved little. Griffiths said this was because council officials leaked news of the meeting to the press beforehand.

The council should have been more measured and decisive

Nigel Griffiths

Mowlem’s offer to take over the project was accompanied by a number of allegations over the council’s conduct. Mowlem accused it of a “systematic smear campaign” to discredit the contractor over the Spa. It also provided a detailed analysis of the leakage problems that beset the steam room floors justifying its conduct.

Mowlem said the £26m offer included £14.5m it has already been paid. The council said it had received no detailed costings before the Mowlem press statement last Friday. It acknowledged that a meeting had occurred on 15 December at which Mowlem outlined a “skeletal” plan.

The council was quick to cross swords with Griffiths over his views on the Spa. It said in a statement: “Nigel Griffiths has not spoken to the council or, as far as we are aware, the architects about the Spa and seems to have reached a judgment from what he has heard from the contractors. This is unfortunate and suggests his briefing was somewhat biased.”

It added: “The council has been waiting for a full report into the reasons behind the leaking floor as neither Mowlem nor Grimshaw were prepared to accept responsibility for the leaks. As a council we believe in assembling all the facts before we issue instructions or take actions.”