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Blackpool Borough Council awarded £1.1m in tram depot construction claim

A High Court judge has awarded Blackpool Borough Council £1.1m in damages in a claim for alleged breaches of contract in relation to the design and construction of a new tram depot.

The local authority had, however, been seeking more than £6m for remedial works.

The background to the case of Blackpool Borough Council v Volkerfitz Patrick Ltd & Ors [2020] EWHC 1523 (TCC) was that the local authority had, in 2007, secured central government funding for a major upgrade to the tramway system, including the supply of a fleet of modern trams and the construction of a new tram depot at Starr Gate.

His Honour Judge Stephen Davies, sitting as a High Court judge, said the tram depot had been designed and constructed to be a landmark building at the principal southern approach for those visiting Blackpool by car.

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The tram depot was procured by a design and build main contract made between the claimant and Volkerfitzpatrick Limited, the defendant, in 2009, completed in 2011 and brought into operation in 2012. 

The council claimed that significant parts of the tram depot as designed and constructed did not meet their intended design life of 50 years and nor were they suitable for the exposed coastal marine environment where the tram depot was located and where it suffered from regular exposure to the elements. The claims fell into seven principal categories.

The defendant, Volkerfitzpatrick, disputed that the contract required the individual elements of the tram depot in respect of which complaint was made to have a design life of 50 years, contending that the contractual design life was either 25 years or 20 years depending upon the element in question. 

Save for some limited admissions the defendant disputed that the elements did not meet their specified design life or were otherwise unsuitable. It contended that such corrosion as had been experienced had been caused by the claimant’s failure to maintain the tram depot appropriately, in particular to clean the exterior of the tram depot with sufficient frequency.

Volkerfitzpatrick complained that the council had unreasonably refused to accept its offers to undertake remedial works in relation to some elements which it admitted require attention.  It disputed the remedial works proposed and the costs claimed, contending that the claimant was unreasonably seeking to obtain a full-scale replacement of the relevant elements when that was wholly unnecessary and when the costs claimed were wholly excessive.

The defendant brought additional proceedings against the specialist roofing and cladding subcontractor, the lead multi-disciplinary design consultant and the specialist steelwork subcontractor.

The judge awarded the council the total sum of £1,110,781.80.

“This, whilst a substantial sum, is significantly less than was claimed,” he said. “The principal reasons why the claimant has failed to recover a more substantial award are because: (a) I am satisfied that the design life obligation period is either 20 or 25 years rather than 50 years; (b) I do not accept the claimant’s case that the cold formed components are inadequate for their design life or otherwise unsuitable (nor in any event that they need replacement); (c) in a number of cases I am satisfied that limited replacement or repair rather than full replacement is required.”

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