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VolkerFitzpatrick ordered to pay £1.1m for tram depot repairs

19 June 2020

A high court judge has ordered VolkerFitzpatrick to pay £1.1m towards the cost of repairing a Blackpool tram depot suffering corrosion – although it was far less than the £6m claimant Blackpool Borough Council sought.

In 2007, the council secured funding for an upgrade to Blackpool’s tram system, including a fleet of new trams and a new depot at Starr Gate.

The landmark depot building has a modern design with a curved aluminium roof with deep cantilevered soffits, an aluminium wall looking west out to sea, long bands of three-dimensionally curved “wave-formed” decorative blue cladding features along the south and east elevations and fully glazed double bi-folding tram doors to the north.

It was constructed by VolkerFitzpatrick under a design and build contract, completed in 2011 and brought into operation in 2012.

But Blackpool City Council complained that “significant parts” of the tram depot did mot meet their intended design life of 50 years and were not suitable for the exposed coastal marine environments where the depot sits.

It claimed £6m for remedial works in relation to seven categories:

• The galvanised steel cold formed components connecting the wall and roof sections to the portal frame;

• The galvanised steel internal components of the roof;

• The wall cladding panels to the north, east and south elevations;

• The soffit panels to the underside of the roof overhangs on the north, east and part south elevations;

• The decorative wave form cladding panels affixed to the wall cladding panels to the east and part north and south elevations;

• The tram access doors, glazed side panels and supports and operating mechanisms in the north elevation;

• Other general defects.

But VolkerFitzpatrick disputed that the contract required the individual elements of the depot to have a design life of 50 years, contending that the contractual design life is either 25 or 20 years, depending on the element in question.

Apart from some limited admissions, it argued against the claim that the individual elements did not meet their specified design life or were otherwise unsuitable. Instead, it claimed that corrosion was as a result of the council’s failure to maintain the depot properly and in particular to clean the exterior frequently enough.

Volker Fitzpatrick also complained that the council had refused its offers to undertake remedial works in relation to some elements which it admitted required immediate attention.

Judge Stephen Davies awarded £1.1m to the council and said the main reason why the council failed to recover more was because he was satisfied that the design life obligation of the depot was either 20 or 25 years, rather than 50, and he did not accept the council’s case that the cold formed components were inadequate for their design life or otherwise unsuitable.

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