Minister's attempt to mediate between client, contractor and architect ends in yet more acrimony
Construction minister Nigel Griffiths has conceded that his attempt to mediate in the dispute over the Bath Spa project has ended in failure.

Speaking at Building's Construction Client Convention on Tuesday, Griffiths revealed that despite meeting the client, contractor and architect "in confidence, and without lawyers", he had been "unable to agree a way forward".

The dispute arose last year, after peeling paintwork was discovered on the wall of the spa (pictured above). It is presently with the Court of Appeal to decide the legality of the client's decision to force the original contractor Mowlem to step aside and allow access while a second contractor, Warings, repaired the paintwork.

Griffiths called Mowlem, the client Bath council and Grimshaw, the designer of the project, to Westminster for talks. The meeting was billed as a chance to settle differences, but it broke up with all sides blaming one another.

The story of Griffiths' unorthodox attempt to resolve the crisis emerged after Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, tabled a parliamentary question to find out what happened at the meeting.

Griffiths' reply read: "The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Mr Griffiths) met [the parties to the dispute] as construction minister to discuss construction matters. This was achieved."

Foster described this response as "a complete and absolute disgrace".

A court ruling on whether Warings will be allowed to continue on site was imminent as Building went to press.

It emerged this week that Gardiner & Theobald, the scheme's project manager, appointed Alan Charters to head its team at the spa two weeks ago.

A spokesperson for the council said: "I can confirm that Alan Charters has been brought in to the project management team. We are very happy to be working with him."

Charters has previously worked on G&T's team on the Birmingham Bullring redevelopment scheme.

The Bath Spa scheme was intended to capitalise on the city's famous mineral springs by developing a network of baths and pools in the centre of the city. The project was to have been opened to the public in autumn 2002, but was subjected to a number of delays, of which the problem with the paintwork was the most serious.

The council commissioned a report into the peeling paint by STATS, a materials specialist. This was published at the end of January, and it appeared to hold Mowlem chiefly to blame, because the faults it highlighted are usually a contractor's responsibility.

Mowlem responded to the report by claiming that the paint, RIW's Toughseal, was specified by architect Grimshaw. It also alleged that the council's approach was "calculated to embarrass Mowlem".

The contractor was particularly angry that the council had only released the summary of the STATS report to the press.

Mowlem said this summary was "unrepresentative" of the 36-page report, and protested that it had not been allowed to comment on it in advance.

The statement said: "Mowlem has long believed the substitute paint chosen by the council to achieve a cost saving, and specified by the architect, was doomed from the start, and that the primary problems arose from the nature of the paint itself and its specification for use in a swimming pool environment.

"It is important to note that this is not an independent report or a determination, but has been produced by STATS in conjunction with Bath and North East Somerset council and its lawyers.

"Unlike both the council and the architect, we were not permitted to attend meetings with STATS, or review the comment upon either the previous draft or this version [of the STATS report] prior to its release.

"The executive summary does not seem to us to be a fair reflection either of the report itself or of the true position."

The statement adds that page 34 of the report contains the conclusion that the paint was "always likely to discolour", that it was "inflexible" and "prone to shrinkage".

The contractor's statement concludes: "Mowlem believes its position has been vindicated. The paint was bound to fail across the whole of the site, and would fail again if reapplied. This was not Mowlem's responsibility."
Grimshaw declined to comment.

STATS report on peeling paint: The five key problems

1 The pool wasn’t lined properly, or workmen were given the wrong materials. The report talks about “the use of improperly applied, unspecified and/or incompatible repair and filler/render materials”.

2 The walls were damp when the paint was applied. The report refers to “inadequately prepared substrate surfaces, including the possibility for condensate and other moisture on concrete surfaces”.

3 The walls heated up when hot water was added and the paint cracked.

4 The paint wasn’t applied thickly enough.

5 Debris and dust got into the surface. The report mentions the “contamination of paint surfaces between layers”.