Fairfield Park school delay wrangle could go to High Court

Fairfield Park Lower School in 2012. Picture: Alan Millard

Fairfield Park Lower School in 2012. Picture: Alan Millard - Credit: Archant

A wrangle over the completion of a school expansion project near Stotfold could be heading for the High Court.

Steve Dixon. Credit: Central Beds Council

Steve Dixon. Credit: Central Beds Council - Credit: Archant

The developer faces a financial penalty for failing to complete the scheme on time, but has vowed to contest council criticism.

The work at Fairfield Park Lower School has been carried out by a number of contractors for development firm Lochailort.

Increasing pupil numbers triggered the need for an extra school site in Fairfield Park to cater for 60 pupils from last year and a further 30 this year.

The work was initially forecast to be completed by last September, but eventually lapsed a year, which wasn’t the fault of the building company.

But now pupils are unlikely to occupy the new site before the Autumn half term.

Councillor Steven Dixon, Central Bedfordshire Council’s executive member for families, education and children, has labelled it “completely unacceptable”.

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Mr Dixon – who is a Conservative councillor for Stotfold and Langford – described children having to remain in the current school facilities until the October holiday as “nauseating”.

Speaking to the council’s children’s services overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday, he said: “We’ve tried to bring this project in on time, but the delivery has been rather slow.

“Even more disappointing this project is already 12 months late. It’ll miss the finishing line by about four weeks.

“I apologise to the residents in Fairfield and the surrounding area, but the developer has let us down.”

Toby Markham, chief executive officer of home builders Campbell Buchanan Group – who are agents for Lochailort – has said he is “disappointed” with the remarks.

“I am a little surprised by Steven Dixon’s comments,” he said. “We’ve been working collaboratively on this.

“The school [structure] is completed. The problem we’ve had is well beyond our control.

“It’s the services from Energetic which have let us down. It’s things like water and electricity.

“The council was aware of the problems with them.”

Mr Markham said he was aware of the potential for a financial penalty, but said it would be “robustly” defended in the High Court if necessary.

“We’ve stood by our obligations,” he said. “We will pay towards the cost of temporary accommodation at the existing school.”

He accused the local authority of being slow in finalising the highways agreement, saying it had “dragged its heels”.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Conservative Toddington councillor Norman Costin said that whichever contractors the council picks, it always seems to get let down.

He suggested having a second list of firms for the future.

Councillor Dixon agreed and said he found it difficult to accept when something like a couple of weeks’ delay was out of the council’s control.

“I hope this is something we can take on board about how we can deliver [projects] more effectively, efficiently and I suspect economically.

“It’s certainly something to look at. We want to minimise disruption for the school and for our officers.

“There’s a hefty penalty arrangement when somebody is late with a project.

“The 12-month setback was accepted. But the latest delay carries some consequences in terms of a financial penalty for the developers.”

Mr Dixon issued a statement in October 2016, saying investigative work on the school site had been undertaken already.

He said that while the programme of works is tight, he was looking forward to the opening of the new site in 2017, and providing the accommodation needed for the new reception intake.