Project manager intervenes to settle row over quality of oak fittings on £250m MPs’ building.
A row over the quality of fit-out work at Portcullis House was settled last week after intervention by client project manager TBV.

Architect Michael Hopkins and Partners and construction manager Laing both refused to accept oak finish work installed by joinery specialist Swift Horsman after they claimed that the specialist had failed to supply oak of the quality specified in its contract.

It is understood that both sides were set to go to court over the issue. However, last week, TBV ruled that Swift had supplied and installed the oak in line with its contractual obligations.

The £5m contract to fit out levels two to four of the building is the first of three fit-out contracts to start on site. Ruddy Joinery and Trollope & Colls Elliott are supplying and installing the rest of the building interior.

TBV, Swift Horsmam, Laing and Michael Hopkins and Partners all refused to comment.

A spokesman for the Parliamentary Works Directorate said: “There have been some discussions about the joinery on levels two to four, but the situation has been resolved. There was a debate that some of the work fell outside the specification. Some of the work is being replaced, but it’s only two or three doors – nothing more.”

A project insider revealed: “It could have been a major problem – one that would have resulted in a bad press for both the architects and the clients. Laing and Hopkins wanted to scrap all the oak that Swift had supplied. The situation got very close to writs being issued.”

English oak is specified throughout Portcullis House. In addition to MPs’ offices, it is being used for wainscoting, bookcases, doors and window reveals.

English oak is known for the inconsistency of its grain and its starkness of colour. It generally takes a few years to darken into a rich honey colour. This means that, although the oak may be sourced from the same place, it may look markedly different in each office.

Laing and the architect felt that the inconsistency had been caused by a failure on the part of Swift to supply high-grade oak.

The source said: “It was a typical architect thing where they just didn’t have a clue what they were specifying and what it would eventually look like. It was a case of: ‘Oh, I didn’t think it would look like that – can’t we change it?’ ”