New contractor for St Albans leisure complex

CONSTRUCTION giant Wilmott Dixon has won the contract to build the new Westminster Lodge complex in the wake of the previous contractors Michael McNamara and Co going into receivership.

Although the contract has yet to be signed, the district council is confident that the construction timetable will remain the same as it would have been under McNamara with work due to begin on site in January and completion expected in the summer of 2012.

Willmott Dixon Construction is part of the Herts-based Willmott Dixon Group which, in 2010, achieved a number of accolades for building sustainability and construction.

Over the last decade, the group has built more than 100 pools and 70 leisure facilities in the private and public sectors, including a multi-purpose leisure complex for Corby Borough Council and a leisure centre in Northolt for the London Borough of Ealing.

Thirty eight companies originally registered an interest in developing the new Westminster Lodge which will be built close to the Holywell Hill end of the site.

Five were shortlisted and invited to tender for the contract with Irish building firm McNamara originally chosen as the contractor.

The council’s cabinet made the decision to award the contract after leading credit risk analysts Dun and Bradstreet had carried out checks but before contracts were signed, McNamara went into receivership – leaving the council open to claims that it had blundered.

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Since learning that McNamara had collapsed, the council reverted to pre-award status and continued the tender process with the financial bids of the remaining tenderers being re-scored by external advisers.

The existing Westminster Lodge will remain open during the construction of the new centre with a 25m x 8-lane main pool and a 17m x 10-lane training pool, both with moveable floors, confidence water area and improved community facilities such as a four-court sports hall, climbing wall, youth gym, spa, fitness gym, exercise studios and poolside health suite.

The size of the pool has come in for a lot of criticism with a protest group, Pool Too Small, set up to campaign for a larger pool.

The council’s portfolio holder for sport and leisure, Cllr Anthony Rowlands, confirmed that the construction of the new scheme remained on track with preparation work having started and building work expected to begin in January.

He added: “The selection of the tenderer for the construction contract, subject to final checks and formalities being concluded satisfactorily and a contract being signed, is a real milestone in the development process of what will be a superb leisure facility for the district.”

n Pool campaigner and lobbyist Vanessa Gregory has questioned how the council can justify borrowing over �24 million for the Westminster Lodge complex in light of the council’s �1 million-plus cut in government grant announced last week.

She has also questioned the size of the funding for the scheme, maintaining that the council will have to borrow over �21,650 million over the next few years to build it.

But a council spokesperson said the correct figure was actually �16.7 million and Cllr Rowlands, commented: “The old Westminster Lodge is almost at the end of its useful life.

“The new Westminster Lodge will provide by far the most extensive range of publicly available leisure facilities anywhere in the city and district.

“Local residents would rightly condemn the council if we failed to deliver facilities fit for the 21st Century.”

The spokesperson added: “That is why we are investing now in a new facility which will be self funding in revenue terms.”