university place UoM c

One of the buildings in question adjoins the distinctive zinc drum fronting Oxford Road. Credit: UoM

Manchester uni row rumbles on as repair bill tops £13m

Contractor Laing O’Rourke and architect John McAslan & Partners are being sued by the University of Manchester over alleged defective brickwork on buildings completed in 2008.

The dispute has been ongoing for some years, but has now been thrust into the spotlight by the publication of an approved judgment following a costs and case management conference on 6 October.

UoM is pursuing recompense for breaches of contract relating to three inter-connected buildings central to the overhaul of the campus in the 2000s.

These are the Jean McFarlane Building and the two buildings known as University Place, one of which is the building attached to the distinctive zinc drum fronting Oxford Road. The buildings are between six and eight storeys in height.

The claims relate to alleged defects in brickwork designed by JMP and engineer Gifford, a third party in the case. The brickwork was built by LOR, or more precisely its sub-contractor Irvine Whitlock.

Structural engineer Gifford is said to be responsible for the movement joints that are particularly at issue in the case. The company is joined to the proceedings by LOR.

It is suggested by UoM that JMP was in breach of contract with its designs, while LOR’s works were defective and were not carried out in accordance with the building contract “nor with reasonable skill and care”.

The university claims that in order to remedy defects, significant works are required, including the replacement of the outer brick skin of all three blocks.

In 2018, the university estimated that the remedial works would cost £5.9m, and, with other required works factored in, that the repair bill would be £10.2m.

By February 2020 the sum claimed had climbed to £13.7m, and as recorded by deputy high court judge Roger ter Harr, is “now likely to be far higher still” in the university’s view.

The main issue discussed at the October hearing in the technology and construction court was that UoM is now seeking permission to cite expert evidence from structural engineering expert Bob Stagg of Alan Conisbee Associates.

In response, LOR requested full disclosure of documents produced by past and present advisers to the university. In short, the construction company is saying that the university has changed its experts in order to find views more favourable to its preferred outcome of replacement brickwork rather than repair – the phrase used is “expert shopping”.

That claim was refuted by UoM, and although the judge underlined the need for continued disclosure, he ruled that he was satisfied the previous expert had been replaced purely due to reasons of ill health.

In his words, “I decline LOR and JMP’s invitation to attach conditions to the granting of permission to UoM to call expert evidence.”

As for legal fees, UoM has already spent £1.5m, a figure it expects to double before the matter is concluded.

LOR and JMP expect their costs to be around £2.7m and £2m respectively, both having committed upward of £800,000 already. Gifford’s costs so far are slightly more than £270,000 and are expected to reach £1m.

The approved judgment can be read in full online.

All parties declined to comment.

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Those vomit-yellow bricks are truly repulsive and I presume were supposed to be sympathetic to the sandstone University Main Building on the opposite side of Oxford Road. I can only assume they were chosen following a particularly harsh value engineering exercise so to find out that there were problems with the installation that is going to cost multi-million to fix only adds insult to injury.

To some extent and whilst the allocation of blame is as yet unclear this serves the university’s procurement department right for trying to procure major buildings like this on the cheap. Would these same issues have occurred had it been a stone / reconstituted concrete finish as I recall was originally proposed?

By Anonymous

The only winners will be the Law firms. Estimated court costs could have resolved the building issues.

By 3D bloke

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