£30m leisure centre delayed by legal row

The design of Craigavon’s long-awaited £30m leisure centre has been delayed, with a firm of architects mounting a legal challenge after their tender – £550,000 cheaper than the winning bid – was rejected by the borough council.

LA Architects from Brighton tendered £860,000 to design the centre, but lost out to the £1.4m bid from McAdam Design of Aberdeen, with three companies in the final bidding. The council also spiked the £1.3m tender from an Ulster-based firm.

The council’s in-committee meeting was told that price was not the only consideration – the steering committee insisted that cost was just 30 per cent of the criteria, and 70 per cent depended on quality.

A spokesman for LA Architects confirmed they were preparing a legal challenge. He said, “We have a proven track record – we’re a highly professional company and the bid was prepared by a magnificent team. We cannot say too much pending the challenge, but I invite you to examine our website.”

The website shows that LA have designed projects all over the British mainland – the Capitol Theatre and Kensington Academy and Leisure Centre are among them. “We feel totally justified in mounting the challenge,” said the spokesman.

The Portadown Times understands that Monday’s meeting was informed that all processes were done according to the laid-down criteria.

The recommendation that the contract should go to the highest bidders came from a team consisting of council officers and external advisers, in line with local government policies.

A council source said, “The tenders were considered on 30 per cent price and 70 per cent quality, and the steering committee went for the highest tender of the three. Of course, if a firm wishes to challenge that, it’s their prerogative. But we are satisfied that, based on the criteria, we have made the correct recommendation.”

It is thought it will take six to eight weeks to resolve the issue, which could end up in court. The projected starting date of the centre, on a site close to Craigavon Lakes, is early in 2015, coinciding with the merger of Craigavon council with Armagh and Banbridge.

The new leisure centre will take a couple of years to complete and will replace the three existing buildings – Cascades in Portadown, Waves in Lurgan and Brownlow.

All three are deemed to be past their sell-by date, and to bring them up to the required standard would probably cost more than the new project.