Sadler’s Wells to close for remedial works as audit office publishes attack on Arts Council projects.
Britain’s first completed major lottery project is to close for a month for repairs and the completion of late-running construction work.

London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre, which opened last October, is to go “black” in August in an effort to carry out remedial works and to finally achieve practical completion.

The unscheduled closure will lose the cash-strapped theatre money at a time when it could have expected to prosper from the summer influx of tourists, but it has taken the decision to finish work once and for all.

The news has emerged at the same time as the publication of a stinging National Audit Office investigation into the monitoring of major capital projects funded by the Arts Council through the lottery. Sadler’s Wells is the subject of one case study in the report.

The £52m project, built by Bovis, has been plagued since its opening by criticism that it is “tatty”, and the August closure is designed to give a clear run to a new team of contractors.

Sadler’s Wells chief executive Ian Albery said: “The job isn’t finished yet. We have not yet got practical completion. The whole of the theatre from the stage door to the studio theatre to the garden café – a whole load of things – are not handed over.

“We are closing the theatre in August for the final push, to carry out remedial works and other jobs still to be completed.

“It’s not unheard of to have a maintenance break, but in this case expediency means we need to do this. Nothing is cancelled but it was not the original idea,” he said.

Sadler’s Wells has not yet announced the closure, but theatre-goers will hear about it in the near future. After the Royal Ballet closes on 31 July, the theatre will not re-open until September. The reasons for this are to be explained in the forthcoming autumn programme.

Bovis will have to return to the site to supervise some packages in a series of general works packages, worth a total of £300 000-350 000, that have just gone out to tender.

The main works to be carried out in August are improvements to the auditorium and stage areas, where Sadler’s Wells is dissatisfied with the quality of workmanship on the stage surface. The stage’s substructure has caused particular problems.

Stage machinery also needs to be improved, and in the foyer of the theatre, boxes that hold cables for data points to multimedia installations will be finished – 10 months late.

The unfinished Lilian Bayliss Theatre will also be completed, as will a community education centre that will now be based elsewhere.

Noise and disruption

Despite losing out financially from the closure, the theatre needs to shut down because it is difficult to carry out this scale of work while it is open.

Even during the daytime, rehearsals would be disrupted by construction work. And to work through the night would be even more expensive, because workers would have to be paid higher overtime rates.

There has been speculation that Sadler’s Wells will pursue Bovis and architect RHWL for compensation for delays to the project and the cost of closure.

However, Albery said that no decisions had yet been taken concerning legal action. Working with adviser Bucknall Austin, Sadler’s Wells is putting together a profile of the project, which it will review when construction is finally finished.

In its report, the NAO found that Sadler’s Wells saw a £14m increase in its forecast cost, a rise of 36.9%.

The auditor’s report shows that there were doubts throughout about the project team’s ability to meet its completion date and whether it could build to budget. Sadler’s Wells has been given an extra grant of £6m and has secured a loan of £3m this year.

The report says that the Arts Council should have more clearly informed the government’s Lottery Advisory Panel of the problems on the project during construction.

The NAO report also says that lottery clients should act more “rigorously” when project monitors fall below standard, and always ensure they have adequate financial expertise.

Bovis and RHWL were unavailable for comment.