Cost of ‘Lutfur’s palace’ increases to £120m following asbestos discovery
PUBLISHED: 10:43 13 December 2018 | UPDATED: 10:52 13 December 2018
Plans to transform the former Royal London Hospital into a town hall have ballooned by £15million after the building was found to contain “phenomenal” amounts of asbestos.
Preliminary work on the new civic centre in Whitechapel Road, revealed “unprecedented” quantities of the banned building material, according to Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs, who has increased the project’s budget to £120m.
The scheme – which has courted controversy – aims to transform what was once the largest hospital in the country into offices for council staff by 2022.
The site was bought from Barts Health NHS Trust for £9m three years ago by the borough’s disgraced former mayor Lutfur Rahman.
At the time the scheme was criticised as his vanity project and dubbed “Lutfur’s palace”. It was initially given a given a £77m budget.
Mr Rahman was forced from office for electoral fraud in 2015 and the new administration re-examined the costs and allocated £105m.
Tower Hamlets Council has insisted the project will eventually save money but it has faced criticism for its rising costs in one of London’s most deprived boroughs.
The local authority expects to recoup an estimated £78m from the sale of existing offices and save £5m a year in rent costs on its current civic centre base in Docklands.
The council has been forced to increase the scheme’s budget in order to strip the Grade II-listed building “down to the brick”.
The renovation will retain the building’s listed facade.
Mayor Biggs has ploughed the extra cash into the scheme to cover the asbestos removal, additional design and inflation costs and replenish the contingency fund.
He said: “The old hospital contains phenomenal amounts of asbestos. In a building that age you would expect some asbestos in the ceiling panels but when [the hospital] was examined it was found in the plaster and the walls. The whole building needs to be stripped down to its brick.
“We were just unlucky that it appears to have more asbestos per square foot than anywhere in the known universe. But now this is sorted we can just get on and build it.”
The hospital building dates from 1748. It was shut in 2013 and replaced by a £650m Royal London Hospital that sits further back from Whitechapel Road and is the biggest hospital building in Europe.
Conservative councillor Andrew Wood said: “We need to urgently re-examine the economics of this proposal.
“We believe the cost will increase again from £120m and that money is better spent on things which more directly benefit residents then building a new office building. The Royal London Hospital is such a fantastic building in a great location.
“We can find somebody else with deeper pockets to take over this project as an office building or hotel and preserve this listed building.”